At a retreat recently, on the second day of a no caffeine, wheat, dairy regime (not something I’m fanatical about, but I felt like giving it a go), I developed a crashing, nauseating headache which had me resting up for the next two days. Of course, caffeine withdrawal was the obvious culprit (my coffee count had been creeping up, and I’d gone cold turkey). Yet it took me straight back to the times I would suffer this type of ‘migraine’ as a child and into my 20s. The solution had always been to pop an Ibuprofen pill and wait for it to go – which it always would – until next time.
Conscious that I was there to ‘clean out’ my system, and that I hadn’t had one of these headaches for years, this time, I didn’t automatically take pain killers. Instead, I decided to rest and go ahead with an osteopathy treatment which I’d organised for later in the day. It turned out the be just the remedy. I’d always assumed osteopathy was about the mechanics and movement of the body – and true, it is about the musculoskeletal system. But I found out it is also a ‘whole body’ approach; the theory being that kinks and misalignments in our supporting structure (spine and skull) can disrupt energy flowing through the nervous system, as well as our organs and how well they function.
I don’t remember much about the 2 hour treatment, except at one point, I did feel a strange dull, achey sensation in my back. The therapist explained he was moving my right kidney away from my liver (!) – it wasn’t remotely painful but felt like a huge release. And when he started working on my head, the throbbing in my right temple went immediately. This time I felt a whoosh of emotion and tears began to flow. Again, a huge release. Later, talking through with the osteopath, it was never clearer to me how every cell, nerve, organ, muscle, and bone is connected, even down to our thoughts and emotions.
It was only my first session and I am definitely going back for more. I learned so much about my body, all the little niggly aches and pains, and where they come from. Taking it back to my headaches, over the years I’d researched the causes – looking at all the theories on triggers (citrus fruits, de-hydration, not eating often enough, hormones and so on). Taking note of specifics helped, but it was only when I started practising yoga, which improved my health overall, I realised it was a digestive issue. It was as simple as this: I was able to relax more easily, my eating habits and digestive system became more regular and I no longer got the headaches.
Now, as I begin to understand the quirks of my posture, I realise some of it is a practical issue. My left shoulder is slightly higher and rotates in a different way to my right – I think because I carry my (extremely heavy) handbag on that side. And a niggly pain in my right hip is probably down to crossing my legs that way when I sit. These I’m aware of. But there are other aspects of ‘holding on’ emotionally which affect the way we stand, sit, and move too. Unravelling that is a little trickier – of course I now know osteopathy can help with this. Also, in the past year, I’ve discovered Myofascial Release a current hot topic for many massage and body therapists.
Again, this is a ‘whole body’ treatment. Fascia is the invisible, continuous ‘body stocking-like’ web of soft tissue beneath our skin, surrounding our organs, muscles, ligaments top to toe, helping us to move freely, breathe easily. Since it is continuous, damage or trauma in one area will show up as tension somewhere else. Imagine, if you pull your t-shirt in one direction, you will cause stretching and pulling the opposite way, so a therapist might work on your hips to ease neck tension. There’s also an emotional element to it – that our unconscious mind remembers how to move (to walk, pick up a cup etc), and will also remember injury or pain which can be held in the fascia. Myofascial Release uses a series of ‘press and wait’ movements which have a different sensation to other techniques which work on the muscles. My massage therapist says that she pauses and waits until she can feel a liquid-like wave as the fascia melts, softens and releases with the movement. She, like many other body therapists, combines it with other techniques to tailor treatment to each person, and it certainly unknots tension in a unique way.
So with all this, I’m finding these days I’m spending most of my spare cash on osteopathy, Myofascial Release and yoga classes rather than shoulder-wringing designer handbags. The benefits are huge – there are many light bulb moments. But as any good therapist who sends you away with a print out of various ‘Things to do at home’ knows, treatments are just part of the equation. We need to stay connected, to be mindful of the way we move, sit, walk, what we eat, drink and think. All of these contribute to keeping us vital, flexible, energetic, youthful, and most importantly as pain-free as possible. And who wouldn’t want that?