How We Respond to Stress

Cervical Fascial Stretch

Cervical Fascial Stretch

9657074_sStress is a necessary part of living. Our response to it can save our lives or kill us. We need it for our very survival, but it’s harmful when it becomes overwhelming and interrupts the healthy state of equilibrium that our nervous system needs to remain in balance.

Structural Cranial Soft Tissue Release For Headache Relief

Structural Cranial Release

Coming home after a stressful day at work and slumping down in front of the TV does little to reduce the damaging effects of stress. Our body’s natural relaxation response, the parasympathetic branch of our autonomic nervous system, needs to become activated. This can be done a number of ways—by practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, rhythmic exercise, yoga, or by getting a massage.

 We control the voluntary part of our nervous system when we need to move our musculoskeletal system, an arm or a leg to swim or dance. 

 Our autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls our involuntary or visceral bodily functions: cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, urinary, reproductive, and plays a key role in our body’s response to stress.

 The ANS consists of two divisions, the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), or relaxation response and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), or fight or flight response. They usually function in opposition to one another, usually considered complementary rather than antagonistic, and create a balance within our bodies. For example, when the heart receives neural stimulation from the PSNS, the heart slows down. Conversely, when the heart receives neural stimulation from the neurons of the SNS, the heart speeds up.

 The SNS prepares the body for quick response action when stress overwhelms our nervous system, releasing chemicals that increase the heart rate, releasing sugar from the liver into the blood, and other fight-or-flight responses to fight off the threat, or retreat from danger.

 The SNS stress response can save our lives in emergency situations where we need to act quickly, however it wears our bodies down when constantly activated by the stresses of everyday life. The relaxation response (PSNS) puts the brakes on this heightened state of readiness, and brings our bodies and minds back into a state of equilibrium.

 Long-term effects of chronic SNS response shunts resources away from long term projects, like building a strong immune system, digesting food, and making babies, in favor of short term crises, like being attacked by a gang of thugs in an empty parking ramp. Crises that are usually resolved quickly, one way or another.

 When the two systems are out of balance, overstimulation of the SNS can lead to anxiety, hypertension, digestive problems, hardening of the arteries, and heart attacks; All are more likely if we experience chronic stress, especially when combined with a steady dose of hostility.

 The PSNS, sometimes called rest and repose or rest & digest, includes all activities that occur when the body is at rest, especially after eating, including salivation, digestion, lacrimation (tears), sexual arousal, urination, and defecation.  It responds with actions that do not require immediate reaction. Overstimulation of the PSNS can result in low blood pressure and fatigue.

 It’s important that we learn how to switch from SNS to PSNS when we’re not in imminent danger, to relax contracted muscles and improve the flow of energy through our bodies, and to release tension and increase flexibility.  Massage has been used for centuries, providing maximum relaxation benefits in minimum time, and is the most effective solution for remaining supple and relaxed in a stressful world.

 Our challenge is to learn how to strike the right balance between keeping busy (SNS) on the one hand, learn how to relax (PSNS) on the other, and to realize the dramatic health benefits of living in PSNS more often. Most of us get the busy part right, but often neglect the relaxing part which is just as important.


Foot Massage For Stress

Plantar Fascia Stretch

Plantar Fascia Stretch

Releasing the Retinaculum

Releasing the Retinaculum

Arthrokinetics-Compression of Ankle

Arthrokinetics-Compression of Ankle

One of the best kept secrets for relieving tension from stress is a simple foot massage.  It’s a quick, inexpensive way to release the endorphins that relax your muscles, soothe the nervous system, increase circulation, reduce anxiety and provide an overall sense of well being. Foot massage energizes, balances, and nurtures the entire body. Good foot health also encourages better body alignment and support of the spine.

 Benefits of foot massage include: Improved circulation and immune system, increased flexibility of feet and joints, greater concentration and clarity, muscle tension reduction, enhanced relaxation, improved mood, and better sleep.

 According to research at the Touch Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, massage reduces the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, enhances attentiveness, reduces pain, improves immune function, and alleviates depression symptoms. High levels of the stress hormones like cortisol in your system can increase inflammation and slow the healing process for even minor disorders

 The human foot consists of 26 bones, 33 joints, 36 muscles, 56 ligaments, and more than 7,000 nerve ending. The average person will walk between 79,000 and 100,000 miles in a lifetime, enough steps to circle the earth three times. Each day our feet withstand the pressure of our full body weight for hours on end.

Yet, our feet are one of the most neglected and abused parts of our body. Women have the most complaints about foot problems, more bunions, corns, calluses, hammertoes, and ankle pain than men because many are still forcing their feet into shoes that are too narrow with heels too high. The result is more pain as a result of muscle strain, bone deformity and poor posture.

A key component of a professional foot massage, which includes thoroughly softening and relaxing the muscles, is balancing and lengthening the muscles in the lower leg before addressing the feet. Muscle strains in the legs and feet are treated with a multi-direction friction technique to mobilize the collagen fibers and eliminate the pain.

 Getting a regular foot massage can help maintain good health and give much needed attention to an often neglected part of the body.

Hand Massage for Stress

Lengthening the Fascia of the Palm

Myofascial Spreading Stroke

Gentle Compression Strokes

Gentle Compression Strokes

Lengthening Forearm Flexors

Lengthening Forearm Flexors

Give your hands a break; they deserve it. In addition to maintaining healthy hand function, a recent study published last year in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that a five-minute hand massage significantly lowered stress levels.

Chronically high levels of stress hormones like cortisol in your system can increase inflammation and actually hamper the healing process for even minor ailments. In another study at Ohio State University scientists have linked higher cortisol levels to a suppressed immune system, higher blood pressure, and higher blood sugar levels.

 The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine found that a quick hand massage lowered cortisol levels by about 53%.

Hand massage is also effective for relieving headaches. The hands, like the feet, contain reflexology points that correspond to the entire body, including the head, neck, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and sinuses.

Our overworked hands are susceptible to acute and chronic dysfunctions, injuries, and degenerative disorders, often due to fatigue through overuse—muscles held in sustained contraction with accumulated metabolic waste products and decreased oxygen. This ischemic [deficient blood supply] pain leaves the muscles sensitive to the touch and pressure.

The hand, a very complex organ with 19 bones, 19 joints, and 27 muscles, multiple ligaments, tendons, and nerves, provides fine motor control responsible for manipulating heavy objects by grasping with a strong grip, as well as delivering delicate movement such as a light pinch.  

 It is important to realize that chronic pain in the elbow, wrist, and hand could be symptoms of a more serious condition rather than from injuries and dysfunctions to the neuromusculoskeletal system, and may require an exam from your MD to be sure that massage is not contraindicated.

I always include and begin any hand massage or treatment session by evaluating, softening and lengthening the soft tissue from the shoulder and upper arm down through the elbow and wrist, because any hand pain and dysfunction usually do not originate in the hand, but instead upstream—shoulder, upper arm, forearm, or wrist.

 A one hour full body massage may not be necessary for you to banish your tension from stress. Therapeutic physiological changes can occur quickly by opening and spreading the tissue of the palm, using a gentle compression or pumping action to stimulate the lymphatic plexus encouraging lymphatic flow. A short hand massage, utilizing the power of touch, could do the trick.

The Power of Our Thoughts

Reducing Pressure on TMJ

Reducing Pressure on TMJ

Why do we feel the way we feel? How do our thoughts and emotions affect our health? Are our bodies and minds distinct from each other or do they function together as parts of an interconnected system?

Thanks to the three decades of research of Candice Pert, a neuroscientist,  PhD, and Research Professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, and her 1972 discovery of the opiate receptor providing startling and decisive answers to these and other challenging questions that scientists and philosophers have pondered for centuries.

She presents striking evidence of research in her book, Molecules of Emotion, that it is our emotions and their biological components that establish the crucial link between mind and body. She offers a new scientific understanding of the power of our minds and our feelings to affect our health and well-being.

Hundreds of books, sales training seminars, workshops and audio programs espousing the benefits of positive thinking now have hard scientific research to support the statement, “Think Positive and Get Positive Results.” 

 “During the cellular chemical change, even the nucleus of the cell changes according to the neoropeptide [biomechanical link between consciousness, mind, and body] that is according to the thought that produced the emotion.” Candice Pert, “Molecules of Emotion

It makes sense to me and it’s easy to see why our thoughts do have incredible power to change our reality, and why they can be so crucial for relieving and eliminating pain and body dysfunctions. There is scientific basis to popular wisdom about phenomena such as gut feelings.

I apply this discovery from research to my clients in several ways:

Hope is instilled in my clients to help them come to believe that, with positive thoughts, their bodies are in the process of getting rid of their pain and dysfunction.

The seriousness of their condition is minimized instead of making it seem worse than they already think it is.

I let them know it is possible to get relief from their pain, and resolve body dysfunctions in spite of a doctors negative diagnosis.

They receive positive achievable expectations from me by explaining their condition in simple terms they can understand. For example opposing muscles like the arm flexors and extensors are most likely out of balance–the short and strong flexors are overpowering the the taut and weak extensors.

Clients are empowered to achieve muscle balance by demonstrating specific stretching and strengthening homework–stretches to lengthen the short muscles and exercises to strengthen the weak ones.

Revisiting Molecules of Emotion confirmed for me what I have believed for a long time, that we are products of our thoughts. My belief is supported with Candice Pert’s scientific research that concludes it is our emotions and their biological components that establish the crucial link between mind and body.