Relieve yourself

As soon as she put the bun on the top of her head, she knew she’d made a mistake. She was helpless against its mighty pull, as inch by inch, it dragged her head down…

Breathing regularly has been shown to improve health, but what about wellness? Breath work is a common part of many methods such as yoga, meditation, hypnosis, relaxation routines, and more.

Most people focus on the inhale, with the emphasis placed on diaphragmatic breathing. This is important, but much of the release of tension comes from the exhaleSighing is the ideal way to exhale to release tension, something that we all intuitively know. If I’m working with someone to release muscular tension and we come to a muscle group that needs some extra help relaxing, I have them give a nice sigh of relief timed with the relaxation. I often invite my clients to relieve themselves while on my table. Some learn how to relieve themselves discreetly out in public places too.

Sighing can be used as you relax into a stretch, at the moment a particular manual therapy technique is used, or during the relaxation phase of a contract-relax technique like PNF.

Here’s a drill you can practice right now to feel how controlling your breathing can make a big difference. Go ahead and go into any gentle stretch you want to. It could be a hamstring stretch, a calf stretch, a yoga pose, anything. As you go to engage the stretch, leisurely breathe in like you’re yawning first thing in the morning. Slowly fill your body up with air as you stretch and then hold this for a few seconds. Holding your breath will highlight some of the tension in your muscles which you’ll soon release. After a few moments, smoothly release your air and let out a long contented sigh. Feel the tension you were just focusing on release. This release of tension will allow your body to go comfortably further into the stretch position. Allow yourself a couple of normal breaths in this new position. Then you can repeat the whole process again, yawning to inhale and engaging the stretch. Hold for a few moments and notice any muscular tension. Then sigh out and release that tension, letting your body settle gradually settle into the new stretch position with relaxation.

You can use this sequence to stretch any part of your body or direct your clients to breath this way while you perform a manual therapy technique such as a muscle energy technique or myofascial release.

Pre-meditated meditation

“Peace. Peace. Pees. I have to pee so bad now. No! Focus. Peace. Mmm, peas.”

If you’ve ever had trouble learning how to meditate, it’s probably because you tried to do it while you were already stressed out. The thought process is that meditation is good for stress relief, but that’s really only true if you already know how to meditate. Otherwise, it probably just seems frustrating and ineffective.

Fortunately, your body has a natural way of making this process easy. Every 90-120 minutes your brain activity alternates between high and low phases, like a wave. This is called the basic rest-activity cycle (BRAC). Most people have heard of this during sleep – you go up and down, alternating between deep sleep and light sleep. But this cycle continues during the day. For 15-20 minutes every 2 hours or so, you’ll hit the peak of alertness. This is when you’re super productive and engaged. About an hour or so after that, you’ll hit the low phase for 15-20 minutes. This is when your brain feels foggy, you might feel fatigued or tired, and you read the same sentence 17 times and have no idea what it said. Most people try to ’wake themselves up’ during this ‘slump’ by moving around, drinking coffee or some other stimulant.

This rest phase of the BRAC is actually your body’s natural way of trying to de-stress though! By skipping this phase, most people will become more and more tired throughout the day, which is why people often experience the effects of stress at the end of the day.

If you learn to be sensitive to when your body is telling you to rest, then not only will you be able to function much better during the day, you’ll also sleep better at night. This rest phase of the BRAC is the ideal time to practice meditation as well! Because your brain is already zoning out, you don’t have to worry about quieting your racing thoughts like you would when trying to meditate while being stressed out. All you have to do is notice when your body is telling you to settle down. Once you notice this, you can set a timer for 15-20 minutes (or not) and just let yourself zone out. Many people like to close their eyes and they may even nap, but that‘s not necessary if you don’t want to. It’s important that you don’t do anything during this time. Even if you consider watching YouTube a relaxing activity, it is still stimulating your brain. Now is a time to just zone out and let your thoughts wander. Many people also try to ‘calm’ their thoughts or ’empty their mind’. This is also unnecessary and, in fact, you should allow your thoughts to go wherever they want.

After the 15-20 minutes, you can rouse yourself back to being alert and continue on with the rest of the day until you feel it’s time for another break. While this cycle does happen many times throughout the day, it’s not necessary to take a deliberate rest break every time. Generally 1-3/day is enough to significantly improve your stress, energy, productivity, and sleep.

Pyramid scheme – rob your clients of their pain!

You too can learn to make complex rock sculptures after a single 6-hour seminar!

Hypnosis is based on eliciting different ideodynamic phenomenon, such as the ideomotor response of muscular relaxation or the ideosensory response of feeling like you’re floating. Everything is on a scale though. For relaxation, it can range from light relaxation in the face muscles, to full body relaxation so deep the person can’t even move (similar to sleep paralysis). For sensation, this could range from a mild feeling of lightness in the hand to complete anesthesia (the Esdaile state or hypnotic coma used for hypnosis-assisted surgeries).

In order to elicit these more powerful responses, most people bring in the concept of ‘depth’. There are many depth scales for hypnosis, but the general idea is that the ‘deeper’ a person is in trance, the more they can achieve some of these advanced effects. While putting numbers to hypnotic depth seems to make it more objective, the idea of depth is really just a concept. Some people may be very ‘deep’ in trance and able to accomplish some advanced ideomotor effects but unable to elicit relatively simple ideosensory effects. These pretty much just makes seeking a certain ‘depth’ before trying to elicit a response, a crapshoot.

The more clinically useful approach is to do ‘chaining’ or ‘pyramiding’. This is where you start by eliciting simple responses and then build on top of those to get to more advanced responses. You can also think of it as linking a series of suggestions together. If you wanted to help someone produce hypnotic analgesia (pain control) in their leg, you wouldn’t start by saying, “close your eyes. Good, now notice your leg going numb!” You could try to do this, but if it failed, your client probably wouldn’t trust you or your ability that much afterwards. Instead, you could start by leading them through a general relaxation sequence. As they become noticeably relaxed, draw their attention to this new sensation of relaxation.

“The more relaxed you become, the lighter your body feels. Every breathe relaxes you even more, filling your body with that lightness. Almost like you’re breathing in helium and you can float even further into relaxation. Or like you’re breathing in a pleasant, odorless anesthesia. Drifting further into comfort, feeling your body go pleasantly numb. The more your breathe this in, the more you can feel it fill your body up with that relaxing numbness.”

Notice in that sample routine, relaxation (a simple response that you’ve already helped them accomplish) is linked to the ideosensory response of lightness. Then breathing is linked to relaxation and lightness. The metaphor of breathing helium is introduced to further link breathing with a feeling of lightness. Then this is moved to breathing another gas – anesthesia. Breathing, relaxation, lightness, and anesthesia are all linked together –  with the corresponding ideosensory response of numbness. In this way, you’ve built each response on top of the other ones to reach the desired effect (numbness).

I’ll give another example of chaining ideomotor responses. Generally, you begin by focusing on the small muscle groups – the eyes and fingers. For the eyes, the most common effect is catalepsy or lack of movement. This would be getting someone to relax their eyelids so much that they don’t work, even when they try to open them. For anyone curious on more about this, look up the Elman induction which is very fast and the most common one taught to those in the medical field because of it’s speed.

“Relax your eyelids all the way to the point where they won’t work. When you’re sure they’re relaxed that far, go ahead and try to open them – just like you would try to open a
locked door, just to make sure it stayed shut. Good, now you can stop trying and send that relaxation down through your body, like a wave of relaxation. Feel that flow all the way through your body, from the top of your head to the tips of your fingers and toes. Notice that as that wave flows through your body, it can sweep up any pain or discomfort and carry it along. All of that pain and discomfort will pool somewhere in your body, I don’t know if it’ll be in your left hand or your right foot or somewhere else. And as it pools there, immersed in all of that relaxation, you can allow it to drain away now. Notice it draining away, completely out of your body, leaving behind only that relaxation and comfort that’s flowing all throughout your body.”

Here, the ideomotor effect of eyelid catalepsy was first elicited. Then full body relaxation was built on top of that. This relaxation was chained to feeling discomfort. As the relaxation changed (by going through the body), the location of the discomfort changed. Finally, the discomfort itself was changed using a suggestion for analgesia and then a refocusing on comfort and relaxation.

Spotting a hooker and automatic movement

**The title of this post and this picture are NOT related. This is just a nice picture of relaxation…

I was standing in line at a restaurant once and the lady in front of me ordered a drink that came in a bottle with a lid you had to pop off. I knew the kid at the register wasn’t old enough to drink because he was failing horribly at using the mounted bottle opener.  We, the bored people of the line, were transfixed by the spectacle. All we could do was watch on as he struggled desperately. What advice can you even give?! He was doing the motion, he just wasn’t hooking the lid fully. You gotta hook the lid – every good, drinking adult knows that. Many of us in that line probably knew exactly what he was doing wrong within a fraction of a second – we could spot a hooker (or lack thereof) instantly. Eventually, our hero fully hooked the lid and the release was felt from miles away. I knew from then on, his body was ready to hook.

Most of the movements we do are automatic. We don’t have to think how to walk or how to lift a beer up to our mouths (unless those two are done in opposite order – then walking might go out the window). This saves us a good amount of effort, but can backfire when those automatic movements aren’t the best. If you move in a way that overloads a specific region of your body, if you automatically react in the wrong way, or when someone hands you a flyer and you reflexively grab it. A good coach can help you update your automatic responses like learning to walk symmetrically again or slapping a pamphlet away without thinking.

Tip: in order to learn a new way to respond, your body has to feel it first. Let’s start with one of the most useful physical responses people need to learn: relaxation. Set a timer for 10 minutes and get into a comfortable position. All of these will be done by first squeezing your muscles, then relaxing. Most people don’t know what it feels like to relax, so by first contracting your muscles, you get the opportunity to feel relaxation as you let go from squeezing. Start by squeezing your fists, then relax. Next contract your upper arm, from your shoulder to your elbow – then relax. Take these 10 minutes to go through your entire body and explore contracting muscles – and most importantly, what it feels like to relax them. To some people, relaxation can feel like your body is loose and heavy, like your arms and legs are limp, wet rags with no tension. Other people, feel light and almost like they could float, like their body is filled with air. However, you experience relaxation is unique to you – just observe what it feels like to you so you can feel it again later when you need. You may have time to go through your entire body 2 or even 3 times. Pay special attention to anywhere that feels tight or where you normally hold tension. Consider this drill your “reset button” for muscular tension. The amount of tension you’ll have in your muscles will vary day to day, and even hour to hour (often depending on stress). Most of the time, we’re not consciously tensing our muscles – it just automatically happens. So practice relaxing and getting your body in touch with having lower tension.

The United Strengths