On the positive side, today's post is one of optimism and practicality. The focus is Self-Bodywork because, honestly, in the last couple of months I've discovered two, closely-aligned (if differently articulated) methods that have been incredibly effective. Furthermore, if you live in an urban centre, chances are you will have access to those who teach these methods.
Each of these methods comes with books and props (and videos if you like that sort of thing). You might think that one technique would obviate the other (or that they'd clash), but not so! I combine both methods with yoga and call it a hybrid.
Remember, I'm operating under the premise that much chronic pain - and certainly mine - falls into the myofascial category (involving the fascia that surrounds, infuses and interconnects muscles of the body). When one experiences myofascial chronic pain, brain/body equilibrium erodes (for any number of reasons) and one's nervous system starts to autonomically control the action of the muscles via excitation or sensitivity. The outcome is that the brain sends neurochemical messages, via connective tissue (or the muscles which that connective tissue surrounds and lives within) which are interpreted by various parts of the body as pain.
OK, with definitions out of the way, meet the methods I highly recommend:
I don't want to mislead you into thinking that this book is well-written. It's in desperate need of a decent editor, IMO, but the information is so valid that I urge you to pretend this woman can string together a bunch of paragraphs into a full book.
The Premise: You can find more about it here, but here's the gist: "The MELT Method is a breakthrough self-treatment system that restores the supportiveness of the body's connective tissue to eliminate chronic pain, improve performance, and decrease the accumulated stress caused by repetitive postures and movements of everyday living." FYI, MELT stands for Myofascial Energetic Length Technique. Stuck stress inhibits the balanced functioning of one's nervous system, so the method purports, and moving into these areas with a specific prop (a specific roller or small balls for hand and feet), in addition to applying mind-body awareness (via breathing), can reverse the process. This can only happen as adhesions (scarred or dehydrated connective tissue) are worked with the props and then rehydrated (so you drink a lot of water before and after - well, all the time really).
- A pool-noodle-like roller that you can only get on the website (or at a studio that teaches the method - though none of the studios that teach it in TO sell the rollers). It does not feel anything like a pool noodle and you cannot substitute anything else. I was skeptical about it's special-snowflakeness, before I shelled out the money, but having worked with it, I do believe it's induplicable. This prop is sublime. Look, there are MANY things in this world about which I am not fit to comment, but when it comes to props, I know my shit. This one is applicable to so many activities besides the MELT method (yoga, for example), that it's worth buying even if you don't want to practice the method.
- There's also a hand and foot kit (comprised of balls and elastics) that I wish I'd bought at the same time. I was being cautious, having not yet seen the roller (which costs 80 USD, before 20 USD shipping). I could have saved 40 bucks because, having used the roller, I promptly purchased the hand and foot props, which haven't yet been delivered. I'm confident, on the basis of what I've learned so far - from practice in addition to research - that the balls would be a terrific salve for those who suffer from systemic foot issues (um, me) or injuries like repetitive strain (a myofascial condition according to certain experts). FWIW, as a body-worker with a reasonable amount of experience, I absolutely believe that the majority of RSI pain is myofascial.
Bizarrely (and totally unexpectedly), it's rather effective for reviving abdominal muscle tone, more so than tons of rather advanced yoga asana, and I have a theory about this: it's about the breathing while relaxing and while doing a minimal amount of (very conscious) movement. When correcting chronic pain, less is most definitely more. You've got to get around the pain response without triggering it. For those of us who stop at nothing, this is a really tricky skill to learn.
Admittedly, I use ujjayi (a yogic version of deep diaphragmatic) breath as I perform these exercises, which contributes just by virtue of bringing about a precipitous drop in cortisol, I'm sure. But the ujjayi breath also requires deep muscle contraction at the end of the exhalation. Tight connective tissue limits one's body's ability perform that contraction and MELT movements loosen connective tissue.
On the subject of less being more, I injured my knee cap recently (patellofemoral injury) while overdoing low-lunges in the yin style. First knee injury ever. As I've been working to correct it, this technique has been invaluable. It's helping me, not only to calm the trigger point muscles that have pulled my knee cap out of alignment - and hurt the cartilage, but to determine from where the injury originates.
FYI, this book (which has nothing to do with the MELT method) is very useful in assisting one to understand knee and foot imbalances / injury from a myofascial perspective - and it gives useful info about the difference between the origin of pain (the "original" trigger point) and satellite trigger points - which you can resolve all day long, but that won't fix the problem. I highly recommend it for those who run or walk long distances.
Cost: It's gonna cost you about 150 bucks to get going with MELT, but it will pay for itself many times over (as long as you do the work). Mind you, the "work" is so phenomenally PLEASANT - and effective - that you'll be MELTing all the freakin' time, rather than for 10 minutes 3 times a week (minimal recommendation for effect). I don't know how anyone can practice for a mere 10 minutes! I get started and I need to work every muscle. But that's me...
I use the roller in addition to the Roll Model balls (see below) and create a sort of Pilates Reformer multi-prop gizmo. But keep in mind, I have many other props to support this and I really know how to use props / what I'm trying to accomplish in my body. I'm not suggesting that someone who's new to movement therapy is going to have as notable a response, as quickly, as I have. Still, if your initial response is half that of mine, it will still have been more than worth it.
Roll Model Method
This book is only nominally better written than the MELT one. But it is better organized and I feel it presents a more coherent case on the nature of myofascial pain. Oh, and while I'm at it, isn't it bizarre that both of these women look exactly the same? Um, is it law that California fitness-instructors must all be blond, long-haired, buff and as white as can be? I could handle some diversity.
The Premise: Well, it's pretty much exactly the same as the one that underpins the MELT method. This one takes a more "active" stance and focuses on athletes and "peak performance". Is this one being marketed to the the young people? Absolutely. Is the MELT method marketed to those with more of an holistic bent and those that are older? Yup.
Thing is, whether you're 20 or 80, whether you're experiencing chronic pain or not, these methods can assist you in avoiding injury and pain throughout your life. They have little appeal to pain-free, athletic young people, I'm sure, no matter what their preferred form of activity. But that's gotta change. If I'd started doing this 20 yrs ago, I'm confident I wouldn't have experienced the majority of pain I'm dealing with now. And I've been rather fit for most of my life! The truth is that the immobility and pain we associate with age is not about age as much as it's about loss of equilibrium and tone specifically in connective tissue. When you're old, you've simply been around longer and have had more opportunity to experience the impacts of that disequilibrium.
The Gear: Not to be confused with the Hand and Foot balls (devised as part of the MELT method, see above), this method uses balls under the Yoga Tune Up brand. To buy the Roll Model balls, you need to go to a vendor who sells them (a yoga studio, generally) or to the Yoga Tune Up website. I bought some at a local studio and others (out of stock at the studio) online. Numerous sizes of balls are used for specific muscle groups. Other props are recommended to support the balls (i.e. wooden yoga blocks) but you can generally prop the body using things you've got at home.
Cost: This method costs about 75 bucks (for book and props) and the balls - unlike that MELT roller - are entirely travel friendly.
Kristin's Take: I will never leave home without these things again. I love them and they work better on small or slender, less-tight muscle groups for me (i.e. calf and ankle area) given that I'm a small person and that the MELT roller can be too soft to get into pain that's very deep. Note: Don't assume you know what body parts have the most tender trigger points. It's not as you'd imagine, in many instances. I do feel that these balls, of all the many sizes, can get into the long outer leg muscles better than anything. And they're great in the gluteal area.
I do have to say that I'd never buy this woman's videos, just on the basis of having heard her voice, in a free video, on the website. It's SO annoying that even my mother couldn't take it. I don't know how she's made such a name for herself teaching, with such an irritating mien.
To Summarize this book of a review:
It's difficult for me to quantify how effective each method is on its own, because I use all the props and methods in an integrated, hybrid method that includes yoga asana. My chiropractor did tell me, this week, that I have improved exponentially and I can feel it. I do have waves of chronic pain (associated with hormones), but it's tolerable because I have confidence that it will resolve while I continue to perform myofascial movement therapies and use complementary techniques.
My parents used the Roll Model balls for the first time recently: I walked them through some Kristin-devised sessions over our hols in Mtl (disclaimer - I hadn't yet read the book, so I was using a lot of intuition) - and they were SO floored by the effectiveness that they promptly went out and bought the entire Roll Model series of balls for themselves and my sister. And none of them considers him or herself to be an experiencer of chronic pain. So that's quite a recommendation. If only they'd been able to try the MELT roller, I'm pretty sure they'd have been at least as sold.
What I will say is that, if I were going to choose one over the other, I'd choose MELT - because it's more focused on breath (a key element of chronic pain reduction) and the prop is better suited to a wider range of large-muscle action. Furthermore, MELT has a ball component (for hands and feet). You do equal amounts of movement in both methods, but MELT is somewhat more holistic, if the book is less well written and less-explanatory of the issues. MELT is also more suitable for those with serious pain (IMO), because the prop is subtler.
Keep in mind, though, MELT is more expensive and I thoroughly love Roll Model too. So if you can't take a pricey plunge, get the Roll Model balls.
Again, my experience of body work is long-standing and I know how to use these props - even just intuitively - in a comprehensive way. I'm not imagining that everyone will gain as much from this as I have, as quickly, so I do recommend that you take classes, if at all possible. In the interests of taking my own advice, I'm signed up for 5 weeks of MELT classes starting in late January. And I'm going to do a Yoga Tune Up workshop in February at a local yoga studio.
So, today's questions: Have you tried either of these methods and, if yes, please do share your experience of them! Do they seem appealing to you? Are you drawn to one more than the other? Let's talk!