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I never thought about pain as being toxic, but since toxicity is defined as the degree to which a substance can damage an organism, I guess I was wrong.
Not only does this definition align with physical pain, but with emotional pain as well. However it shows up — discomfort, tension, resistance — pain is a toxin in our bodies in its variety of symptoms. Some indications of pain are excruciatingly obvious, while others are are not-so-apparent.
While physical pain doesn’t allow itself to be ignored, emotional pain is not always so persistent. In fact, it gets stuck sometimes, and it may take an intentional and assisted physical release to move it up and out of the body.
I recently experienced my first Myofascial Release treatment at the Vail Vitality Center spa. It was enthusiastically recommended to me, as a friend said one session had worked wonders on her strained hamstring. My legs and shoulders could use a bit of a “release,” I thought, but I wasn’t approaching the treatment trying to remedy a specific physical pain.
Licensed massage therapist and Vitality Center Spa assistant manager, Shinji Tsuji, briefly explained the process. He told me that it was not like a traditional massage, but more subtle and asymmetrical. He would move into the resistance of the body, however it presented itself, he said, and my only job was to quiet down and move my awareness inward around his slight pressures and adjustments.
Structural myofascial release uses a gentle pressure applied to the body for five minutes or longer, he said, and allows fascia to soften and elongate. Fascia is a structure of connected tissue that surrounds muscles, groups of muscles, blood vessels and nerves; it binds some body structures together, while permitting others to slide smoothly over each other.
In the “release” process (the first of three steps), the cells are hydrated and produce natural inflammatory agents to minimize the body’s inflammatory response. The myofascial “unwinding” then takes places to help ease subconscious holding or bracing patterns in the body.
“It may involve three-dimensional movements to release your perspective with unresolved emotional issues or mental concepts that are outdated and no longer relevant,” Shinji shared about the treatment, taught to him through continuous trainings since 2011 with Sedona-based therapist John F. Barnes.
Straight to the Heart
My 50-mintue treatment began, and after what seemed like no time at all, I was in a trance. I didn’t know I was in a state of the subconscious until I gradually came out of it, like waking from surface sleep — not awake, but not yet dreaming.
And as I came to, it wasn’t the “ooh, ah,” feeling that I love about deep tissue massages. Instead, my being felt enveloped in the presence of pure fear, and I could only identify the fear as being wrapped around my closest relationship.
“It is very powerful, not only to your body but also your mind and spirit,” Shinji had explained.
It was an uncontrolled awakening to fear that was stuck in my body. I didn’t know it then, but the next day the emotional release continued as I was able to identify the fear as something I hadn’t let go of from the past — two specific heartbreaks that were holding me back from coming from a pure place of love in my current relationship. You can only come from two places with others, or with anything, really — love or fear.
There is no doubt in my mind that the treatment released some of the fear that was caught in the depths of my physical body, like clearing the layers of dust that rests in the corners of dark closets for years.
Shinji knew, too. As a yoga teacher, I am somewhat versed in the body’s energy centers, or chakras. There is no question that the reason he ended my treatment with intense focus on my heart and throat centers was because he could feel a blockage in that area. He know he could sense the fear when it came up, and he moved right to the area where it lived the most.
“Just Let Go”
The physical and emotional shifts are available “when you are ready to quiet down; to bring awareness within you to feel and communicate with subtle energy, vibrations and movements that your body offers,” he said.
What John F. Barnes coined as myofascial “rebounding” is the final part of the process, after the release and the unwinding, when the energy dynamics of the work to help reduce physical pain and increase function and awarenesss.
“It also confuses the neuromotor system to help free the body of its bracing patterns,” he said. “The mind and the body don’t know what to do, so they just let go.”
The work is not over for me. Not only do I want to get more bodywork done from Shinji to keep the energy channels clear, I also need to keep moving through any residual fear that still exists, making more room for love and trust.
I left the Vitality Center feeling calm after the treatment. My legs felt a little weak, but other than that nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I recognized the release I had felt and I approached it with curiosity, and it wasn’t until that night and the next day that the emotional blocks continued to unravel.
I worked with the process of removing fear by confronting old emotions and moving through them with communication to those past heartbreaks. Letters to the ones I had loved (and still do, in a way) — a process of grief I hadn’t fully completed, and therefore found the residual emotional energy that had never been dealt with — dust in the far-reaching corners of my soul.
Shinji said that hardening fascia from traumas, inflammatory responses, repetitive usages and injuries can produce a pressure of 2000 pound per square inch of your body, which does not show up on x-rays, MRIs and other current standard tests.
“To treat and release fascia, we can’t force the fascia,” he shared. “Combinging three key components [release, unwinding and rebounding] create a longer lasting and more permanent release throughout your body, mind and spirit.”
My emotional epiphanies aside, it’s important to note that my legs felt great on a morning run on the day after the treatment. What is stuck in our bodies is toxic, in the physical and emotional forms, and sometimes it takes a little help to move it through.
If you would like to check out John F. Barnes website for further information, visit myofascialrelease.com.
Kim Fuller is a freelance writer and yoga instructor in the Vail Valley.