I love yoga. And I love writing. In fact, I start to feel a little crazy when I break from either for very long.
Unfortunately, though, the two don’t seem to like each other very well. At least not in my body, and especially not after birthing four babies.
I’ve maintained a fairly consistent yoga practice for about twelve years now. (Usually vinyasa, and usually in my living room.)
I also write nearly every day, which means I sit for long stretches in one position.
Upon moving to Tulum, I picked up the pace of both. Inspired by the warm weather, a desire for daily devotion and the fact that this place is a yoga mecca, I increased my mat time to an hour and a half and went deeper into my practice than I’d ever gone. (And it was awesome…at first.)
Inspired, too, by my quiet house (kids finally all in school), emerging passions and time abroad, I upped my writing load, sitting for as many as eight hours at a time.
My mind and spirit LOVED it.
My body did not.
The pain began in my neck. Repeatedly (while doing yoga or sometimes even while sitting), I’d feel a “pop,” then experience discomfort and limited mobility for the next four days.
Then came a tightness in my lower back, which soon spread around to the front of my hips. The discomfort and tension became so great that I could hardly get comfortable in any position, whether sitting, standing or lying down.
So naturally (duh), I did MORE YOGA. It was the only thing I knew to alleviate the pain, if only temporarily. When I’d sit again, however, it hurt so much that I could hardly think about anything else.
Weeks went by before I finally admitted to myself that the yoga was making matters worse.
I got my google on, figured out that the pain was radiating from my psoas and incorporate stretches to alleviate the apparently-tight muscle. I backed off the yoga, but as soon as I’d practice again or put in a long day of writing, the pain intensified.
Aggravated and tired of hurting, I vowed to get some answers during our trip home to Austin.
Jesse is a Movement Specialist who specializes in NeuroKinetic Therapy, foam roller therapy, restorative movement, personal training, and overall self-care techniques.
Within a few sessions, he was able to identify muscle groups that weren’t engaging, others that were consequently being overused, and customize a plan for correcting back to “normal.”
By the time we left Austin five weeks later, my pain was almost completely gone. Six months later, I have resumed my yoga practice (very slowly, very cautiously), I still write for a good portion of every day and still…no pain!
I am now, however, a foam roller addict. When I feel a little tension coming on, I get out the foam roller. Before a long yoga session, I use the foam roller. If I anticipate a day in the car, I spend a good half hour working those areas I know are prone to tension. It’s truly made all the difference for me.
While working together, Jesse described mine as a fairly typical set of circumstances and explained that mothers are by far his largest group of clients.
So I thought it’d be great to ask him a few questions and help shed some light on why chronic pain has become so common.
(And no, this is not a paid promotion, just something I believe in.)
First of all, Jesse, a million thanks for helping me back to “normal.” Though I’ve coined you my “hero” somewhat jokingly, the epidemic of chronic pain in our country is no joke at all, which makes people like you pretty darn heroic in my book.
So, will you describe for us what it is you do?
First, thank you Beth for offering me this opportunity. I appreciate the sentiment of being called a hero, but that is not what I consider myself. If anything, I help release the hero potential in people like you. Every one of us has an amazing gift: this human body which carries us through the world. It has the awesome capacity to serve us physically and emotionally.
When our body is in balance, we move with efficiency and grace. When we are out of balance, movement is inefficient and can feel stiff, rigid, challenged, and/or painful. Pain often brings with it anger, frustration and fear. Living in this state of pain and emotional turmoil prevents us from living our greatest potential.
This is where I (and other therapists) can help. The magnificent human body has the ability to heal itself. This power is within each of us. I help my clients walk through their emotional minefield and slowly change their relationship with pain. Through the work I do, I help show them how to bring their body back into balance.
What do you suspect was causing my pain, specifically?
Specifically, it is hard to say. I suspect that you have a history of hip and shoulder instability due to the combinations of previous injury, child rearing a brood, and computer work. With Yoga, you added mobility training, i.e. flexibility, to an unstable foundation, and your body recruited other muscles to compensate and stabilize that foundation. Over time, these compensation patterns become overworked and painful. I discuss this a bit more below.
Can you speak to some of the more common causes of chronic pain that so many face in our culture?
I believe the majority of chronic pain in our culture is purely movement based. Our bodies have an immense range of healthy movement potential. Most people do not utilize their potential on a regular basis, if ever. The old saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it” is very true when it comes to moving. When we don’t use our full movement potential, our functional range shrinks into the positions we utilize the most, and it must stabilize within this new range.
It’s like being slowly wrapped tighter and tighter into an ever shrinking movement box. When we suddenly attempt to move outside the box — e.g. bending over, lifting something over our heads, or reaching and turning backwards, we experience injury. The injury results from the fact that our body doesn’t feel safe moving outside of the box. Muscles strain and spasm to pull us back into our comfort zones. What the body is attempting to communicate is that we need to fully explore all movement safely, prior to injury. Unfortunately, when most people experience this pain they shrink even further into the box. An example is someone who doesn’t squat because of knee pain. Or someone who doesn’t raise their arm overhead because of shoulder pain.
What is meant by “rewiring” the body and why is it so important?
Our nervous system rules movement and is wired like a circuit board. Each circuit pathway connects to a movement pattern. As I said above, our movement potential shrinks into the patterns we utilize most and our body must stabilize within this smaller range. Our nervous system is incredibly efficient. It maintains and even strengthens the circuit pathways we use most and drops the ones we neglect. If you stop moving your arm, the nervous system removes the ability to move that arm from the circuit board. Restoring full movement function means getting out of the rigid box and exploring your fullest potential.
How are women’s bodies different post-pregnancy and how might we go about respecting this natural adjustment?
This is a simple and complex question to answer.
Simply put, you just grew a human in your body and that alone elicits a tremendous amount of change. Once born, a child spends its first several years attached externally to your body, usually in the form of being carried on one hip.
During this time, it is common for a new mom to neglect exercise and self care. Their movement potential diminishes, and this can have a major impact on their body. This is the number one reason that moms make up the majority of my clientele. I help them re-prioritize their health and wellbeing.
The complex answer is every person has a different life story, movement history, and experiences with pain and injury, as well as an individual path to recovery. Much of how a woman’s body changes post pregnancy begins months and years prior to getting pregnant. I feel that our society does not place enough emphasis on optimal physical and emotional health, prior to pregnancy. If you are experiencing movement dysfunction prior to pregnancy, carrying a child both inside your body and then outside for the next several years can wreak havoc upon your body.
The foam roller has been super effective for me. Can you explain how it works?
Foam roller therapy helps by talking directly to your nervous system. When a muscle is short, spastic, and tight, it is receiving too much neural input. With gentle pressure on a foam roller or another self massage tool, such as a tennis ball or Thera-cane, we can tone down a muscle’s neural input so it can lengthen, relax, and release. This helps reduce pain and discomfort, improve joint mobility, and increase range of motion.
I recommend foam roller therapy as general, full body, preventative self care, not necessarily to fix specific pain and injury. Foam roller therapy alone will not fix painful movement. If something hurts for more than a week or two, you need the help of a Movement Specialist.
Are there specific self-care practices you would recommend to readers?
It begins with practicing healthy pain-free movement. Each day, slowly explore your full movement potential. If it hurts, then move to the limit of your pain-free range–no further–then expand into fuller ranges over time. As Scott Sonnon, one of my favorite movement practitioners, often says, “Move to the tension, not through the tension.” I’ve been utilizing his simple joint by joint movement program for myself and clients as a daily practice. For help restoring movement, check out Scott Sonnon’s IntuFlow DVD Series.
The kind of work described above is different than modalities such as Yoga, which in its own right is a great practice. However, I see many injuries from seemingly “gentle” practices. This is because our structural balance comes from the dynamic interplay of stability and mobility. If you have issues of instability in the hips and shoulders, adding in mobility training such as Yoga without first addressing the instability can exacerbate these issues. The body will compensate elsewhere for stability. This is generally where pain begins. Similar to your experience.
I also recommend foam roller therapy as a weekly practice to aid in work or exercise recovery, reduce discomfort, and improve movement function. A caveat is foam roller therapy increases mobility. As I state above, if instability isn’t addressed first, adding such a practice can cause problems.
Anything else you would like to add about your services? How should folks go about finding a good therapist in their area?
Most importantly, I absolutely love what I do. Walking my clients through the process of healing and into healthy pain-free movement, changing their relationship with pain, and witnessing them grow from the process is the most fulfilling work imaginable to me. When I was young, I wanted to change the world. I feel like I now get that opportunity every day.
As far as finding a good therapist who works with chronic pain and injury, I have a few suggestions.
Lastly, I have many articles on my website that discuss common issues in greater detail. You can also find healing and recovery suggestions, as well as other helpful self-care tips there.
You can follow me on Facebook too.
Thanks, Jesse! It’s been a pleasure.
More than just a promotion of Jesse’s work, I offer this post toward increased self-awareness and holistic healing. In our pill-popping and instant solution-seeking society, it can be easy to resort straight away to the “band-aids,” but true and lasting healing always takes time.
Can’t afford most alternative therapies? Me, either! We just have to get creative. Swap services, shop around or find a therapist in training. In my experience, many alternative-minded therapists are also open to alternative methods of payment.
Be well, my friends!
Thank you Beth! I am 2 years post partum with my second child. 2nd time marathon runner since my last birth and most recently in severe sciatic and knee pain. I figured it had to do with my alignment and I started yoga twice weekly. Much to my surprise the pain/discomfort got worse. Now I understand why. Thanks for illuminating on the issue. I am scheduling an appointment with my chiropractor.
this makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the time you put into it Beth and Jesse.
I’m so glad you got the work you needed, Beth. NKT is an amazing tool. I would also recommend, for anyone else looking for help, Restorative Exercise™. Practitioners have a similar base of theory behind them (in fact I know several Restorative Exercise Specialists who also practice NKT) of looking for the underlying instabilities to start the alignment from the ground up. It’s so important to understand that it’s all too easy to be hurting ourselves more when we are trying so hard to help ourselves. Here’s to pain-free living and optimal health!!
I really enjoyed this. I’ve also had a series of injuries and general aches and discomfort since two close together pregnancies and births. I just want to mention a similar holistic view and approach to the one you discuss here will be followed by a good physical therapist – which is more likely to be covered by insurance. I have two friends who are excellent PTs and have greatly helped me with my neck, back, hip and knee pain. The cause of my pain, I believe, came from much the same reasons as yours. Thanks!
Jesse and I are on the same page about functional movement and rewiring the posture from the nervous system level. My name is Michaelle Edwards, creator of YogAlign. Many yoga poses flex the spinal column and compress the joints creating an imbalance in the forces that stabilize our body.
If you have chronic pain in the body, yes use foam rollers and self massage but also stop putting your body in right angles and straight lines as dictated by yoga poses.
Like all of the natural world, the human body is made of curves and all parts affect the whole. I have worked with hundreds of injured yogis and they all stopped straight knee forward bends and right angles like plow, staff and shoulder stand which undermine the forces needed to stabilize the hips and spine for upright posture and movement. Please see my website at http://www.yogalign.com and http://www.yogainjuries.com
YogAlign is what I created to heal my own yoga injuries and began to practice asana to create good posture, instead of good poses. Anyone can do it and the result is aligned posture that supports the body in optimal function and pain-free living. Yoga injuries are out of control because the poses need to simulate how our body is actually designed.