The Source of Pain in Our Bodies
By James Bardot, Sept 1, 2015
Recently a Boston Marathon runner came to see me with two specific complaints, a pain in is right ankle and a nagging pain in his neck. To his surprise, when I began working on his right foot, he felt sensations in his neck.
We naturally assume that the site and the source of a physical problem are the same. For example, if our neck hurts, we want someone to rub our neck. Why? Because experience has taught us that when we stub our toe, or hit our thumb with a hammer, the pain and the event share a common source.
When it comes to chronic pain, however, it’s almost never the case. The reason is this: Our bodies are held together by a multifaceted membrane called connective tissue that runs unbroken from the top of our heads to our small toe. These tissues cover every part of our bodies and literally hold us together. To a large part, they define us. They give our bodies shape and structure and control our movements.
When these tissues become compromised through overuse, bad habits, injuries, accidents and other factors, they tend to thicken and bind together, causing structural limitations with far reaching consequences. Just like when you tug on the corner of a bed sheet, the strain will be felt at the opposite end, when stress in one part of this matrix occurs, it can impact places that would seemingly have no relevance to the original problem. And with each new insult to the body, these patterns grow in complexity until the breaking point is reached and chronic pain sets in.
To resolve these long standing problems, we must address the larger issue, the body itself. Imagine if the foundation of your house were to become stressed. No amount adjusting the windows and door frames above will ever solve the problem. The same is true of our physical structure and it is why Rolfing addresses the entire body, rather chase individual symptoms. Only when the entire body is brought into alignment again will issues like that nagging ankle or neck pain have any hope of being resolved.
The Fourth Pillar of Good Physical Health
By James Bardot, August 1, 2015
We’ve often been told that good physical health consists of three elements: strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and stretching. But when I look over my clients’ intake cards, I rarely find people who engage in all three. Weight lifters often have little interest in stretching or cardio; runners and cyclists pay little attention to stretching and weights; and yoga practitioners are sometimes poorly motivated to do cardiovascular or strength training activities.
To be sure, good health requires a balance of all three and balance is the key word here. Keeping all three in relative proportion is a great prescription for maintaining and improving your physical health. But are they sufficient? Even when people do all three, they can still feel like prisoners in their own bodies. What’s the solution?
When ask myself this question, I often think back to our ancestors and how they lived before the days of automation, or even agriculture. Before we morphed into repetitive behavioral patterns and sedentary living, we were always on the move; nothing was repetitious. In some cultures, this type of living is still common and the results are visible
A few years back, I went to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and was amazed at the grace and poise of the indigenous people, the elegant curves of their spines and their beautifully erect posture. Why? Because like our ancestors, they moved continuously, not in the repetitive, premeditated, gym-structured way common to us now.
The question is, how can we bring this element back into our lives? By letting our bodies move freely without conscious intervention and giving that subcortical loop in our brains free reign again. Things like kicking a soccer ball, shooting hoops, jumping on a trampoline, playing volleyball, body boarding, or throwing a Frisbee at the beach are all good examples and there are countless others. So take a break from your routine and give your body a chance to play and explore. And if you find that one activity causes you discomfort, try another, but keep moving! Your body will benefit, and I can almost guarantee you that your mind will too!
Finding the Right Stretch For You
By James Bardot, July 1, 2015
Recently, a new client called to see me complaining of unrelenting back pain. After a couple sessions, he reported feeling much better and a few more after that, called to say he was pain free! I told him this was wonderful, but the good news did not last. As we progressed through the ten-series, his pain started recurring. After the 9th session, he called to say he was canceling his 10th session because Rolfing was not helping.
Knowing he was an ardent practitioner of yoga, I asked him if he would consider taking break from yoga for a few weeks to see if it might improve his condition. “Absolutely not,” he replied. “I’ve been doing yoga eight years and its done wonders for me. I can feel it opening me up!”
“I’m sure of that,” I replied, “but it may not be opening you up in ways your body needs.” I went on to explain that all stretching techniques may not be beneficial for all people. Yoga, for instance, often involves a lot of bending, twisting and stretching at the waist, whereas athletic magazines, like Runner’s World, Outside, Men’s Health / Women’s Health and so on tend to emphasize more the leg muscles. I told him that when he walked, I observed that his legs were quite tight, which was throwing the demands of locomotion up into hips and resulting in inflammation.
“Try this,” I suggested, “Continue doing yoga, but for two weeks limit poses that involve stretching, bending and twisting at the waist. I then gave him a few simple leg exercises to do on his own to stretch out his calves, hamstrings, hip flexors & quadriceps. About a week later, he called to say his pain was 90% gone and wanted to reschedule his 10th session. He is now pain free.
I am no expert in stretching. I relate this story simply to show that different bodies have different needs. For some, yoga may be the answer. For others, Egoscue, Chek, Pilates or Stretch to Win programs may prove more beneficial. The trick is to not be beholden to any one discipline just because you’ve heard it’s a good program. You may have to experiment a little at first to find which programs / exercises best suit your body type, history and activities. It may seem tedious at first, but the end result could make it well worth the effort.
By James Bardot, June 1, 2015
“He who breathes partially lives partially” is an old Chinese proverb, and one that seems more relevant to us now than at any time before in human history. Even a generation or two ago, life moved at a significantly slower pace; stress levels were lower and breathing was something we simply did without thinking about it.
In the high-stress world we live in today, however, many seem to live their lives almost in a state of chronic hyperventilation. Shallow, rapid breathing can not only wreak havoc on our mental health, but provoke all sorts of physical health issues as well.
Breathing is one of the more unique systems of the body because it operates automatically via the Autonomic Nervous System, but it can also be overridden through conscious intervention.
I’ve seen more than a few clients try to force unnatural breathing patterns on themselves, thinking they can somehow outfox the body and trick it into a more optimal manner of breathing. While some can be useful, they can also become disruptive and in more extreme cases, end up creating a conflict between controlled and uncontrolled breathing patterns, leaving neither able to function optimally. Perhaps we should think twice about trying to rig a system that nature has, through millions of years of trial and error, developed into a highly optimized system.
So what are our options? I’m sure there are many, but from what I’ve observed, the best way to reestablish a deep, natural breathing pattern is to get out of the way and let the body do its thing. To do this, take a moment and close your eyes (preferably not while driving) and simply watch your breathing as a conscious but passive observer. Don’t’ try to change anything. Don’t count. Just relax. Your body really does have its own innate wisdom, so trust in it. Simply observe and give your breathing a little space and time to find its center again. And by focusing on your breathing, you also quiet much of the mental chatter that gets your breathing into trouble in the first place—a double win!
That’s it. Really. For me, I’ve found it usually takes between 5 and 10 minutes to reestablish a good rhythmical pattern again, and once established, it will usually continue for some time into your workaday world as well.
We often look at the human body a
collection of individual parts: heart, eyes, feet, etc. But from a functional standpoint, it operates as a single, dynamic whole: when one part of the body becomes compromised, the entire structure is affected.
- James Bardot
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