David and the Goliath of Pain
by Beth Blair, BCTMB, LMBT NC 8473
April 20th, 2017
Lately I have been focusing my blogs around my art and my creative spirit. I am shifting my focus to talk about the Giant in the room…Chronic Pain…things like fibromyalgia…degenerative diseases that have pain as the number one symptom… cancers and their treatments are painful…surgery recoveries…and the illusive pain-maker…STRESS. Pain is a signal, a message…how are we treating it? Numbing it, silencing it?
I feel that I am knowledgeable on this subject, not only because I have been working with patients and clients for the better part of 8 plus years as a massage therapist and 15 years as an energyworker, but because I have healed from chronic debilitating pain of degenerative disc disease. The first measures of my treatment for my chronic pain was to numb it…silence it. It didn’t go away! It lingered in the darkness, grabbing me at the worst possible moments. I moved to a more active treatment, chiropractic and acupuncture treatments, that helped from session to session…then I finally took control through harnessing my own energy to heal. I found a Tai Chi class. This took me on an amazing journey of self-discovery, healing and my career as an energyworker, massage therapist and Tai Chi Instructor. It took time and it was not a quick fix!
I also spent two years as the Complementary Therapies Coordinator at Hospice and Palliative Care Center. I feel this was my Master’s training in navigating pain in others and honing my touch. What I have experienced through my own healing and witnessing healing in others has made me an exceptional therapist and advocate for those seeking to free themselves from the Goliath of pain. I encourage the individual to tap into his/her own healing resources and energy.
As I reflect on what was the main factor in healing from chronic pain, I would say the simplest answer lies in the dance between the sympathetic (Fight or Flight) and parasympathetic (Rest and Digest) parts of the nervous system. In our current culture, we are on overdrive with stimulation, perceived urgency triggers (cell phones, social media, and cultural news) and food stimulants (caffeine and sugars). Many people are “On” from the time their feet hit the floor until they turn the lights out and cannot fall asleep easily or without aid. I may be overstating or dramatizing to paint this picture, but without pulling scientific facts, studies or research I think we can see my statement is not far from the truth. We have more diagnoses of things like Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, Adrenal Fatigue, undiagnosed pain, chronic back pain (from non-injury) not to mention the bodies lack of ability to fight off the common cold.
The purpose of the Sympathetic Nervous System is to save our lives…it works to balance the body through respiration (as one function). The saving our life part shows up when we experience a “Life Threatening” situation, like a tiger chasing you. Now I believe there aren’t any tigers roaming free here in Winston-Salem. Yet, many of us respond to the happenings in our lives as if there were. Why not change the ding of the cell phone to a tiger sound? That’s how many of us respond. When we are in the “Fight or Flight” response of the Sympathetic Nervous System, we do just that…fight…have an adrenaline surge and can fight…or run really fast, “Flight”. The body stops all non-essential processes to save us…we don’t uptake food, heal cuts, grow cells, etc. If we are living in this tiger eats us world…our bodies cannot heal. Get the picture? Now I am not the scientist that can quote all the chemical reactions that happen in the body…but I have witnessed this in the eyes and words of many with life limiting diseases, chronic pain, and illnesses that keeps them stuck in pain.
So, what is the flip side to the Sympathetic Nervous System? It is our friend, “Rest and Digest” AKA The Parasympathetic Nervous System. This is the place of belly sounds, gaseous releases, cell growth, good sleep and the aaaaaaahhhhh experience of being on a massage table. Let’s be clear…we NEED both systems and one is not better than the other. They work in concert with each other…with each breath we take we can experience it…breathing is the dancing of the parasympathetic and the sympathetic systems. The key is finding the balancing rhythm that the body is continually seeking.
I have helped many clients and patients improve their healing, rest, medication uptake and stress reduction with simple touch, energy and inviting the body to rest and reset. This kind of experience is not a silver bullet that most people are looking for. It is a practice of inviting the body to rest, again and again, so healing can happen. It is in the experience of long slow strokes, warm touch, hot stones…and other sensorial stimulation that navigates the pain receptors, the information highway of the nervous system to regulate and find a new course. It is in the deep release of the “knots” in the tissue, or the locked pairing muscle without inflicting more pain. The beauty of creating these types of experiences for my clients, is that by simply remembering the time on the table, healing can continue. The mind doesn’t know the difference between live and remembered experiences. This can help heal as much as aggravate pain. Take a minute and think about a place in your body that hurts or has hurt…notice what happens to your breathing? Is the pain increasing? Now, think of something that is relaxing, like a hot bath, a massage or a beautiful blue sky and gentle breeze…notice the relaxation response? Sometimes, it is easier to experience the relaxation with assistance, like a massage.
Massage Therapy can complement, integrate and support a person’s healing. It can create a simple place of rest. It can help you be the “David” to the “Goliath” of your pain. It can be a practice that helps support a relaxation technique, meditation, or breathing practice. It can also address functional movement patterns, compensations from pain and other physical symptoms that show up from chronic pain. My personal style of Massage Therapy is a synergistic blending of various techniques that DO NOT HURT (usually 😊). There are therapies that “work things out,” they have their place and I respect the vast variety in my profession. I do my best to stay inside the pain response threshold because I want to encourage the “rest and digest” of healing. The beauty of my practice, is that where I cannot go with pressure, I can go with energywork or guided breathing. My goal is to serve my clients for their greatest healing potential.
Massage Therapy is not just a luxury. It is a tool to reduce pain, stress, increase wellness, circulation, movement and many other benefits. As I continue in my private practice, I am fascinated by the level of healing that happens. I am wondering, if you suffer from pain or stress…why haven’t you considered investing in your “rest and digest” healing? If you would like to talk more with me about the benefits of massage, I offer consultation appointments. If you would like to schedule your next massage or your first massage, you may contact me or conveniently book online.
Pain is a symptom and yet in our culture it seems to be an epidemic that is getting silenced.
Are you ready to be David?
Blessings on your healing journey.