Most of you don’t know me, or if you do, it’s vicariously through Elisha’s stories about her man, Stefan. That’s me 😉
As many of you know Elisha just hosted a live event in Colorado teaching a group of students her work, Kinetix. I helped her put the event together, but I was also a student.
Although I was more familiar with Kinetix than most, having experienced it through Elisha, I never really stepped on anyone until the event. It definitely changed my orientation to the work and my orientation to nervous system patterns. My journey with nervous system patterns has been all over the spectrum, ranging from total naïvete to acute awareness with successes at re-patterning. As it turned out, this Kinetix event was the perfect place to experience that same spectrum across a diverse group of people.
As the event progressed I started noticing a recurring theme that I believe is a fundamental rule of our existence:
Nervous system patterns either dictate or are dictated by everything we do.
Both of these functions of human behavior (dictating and being dictated) are always at play determining our realities. On one end of the spectrum we are completely naïve of the existence of these patterns, and they control our behavior in negative and destructive ways. On the other end of the spectrum we become acutely aware of what our patterns are, why our patterns are, and which patterns actually serve us best. This dichotomy exemplifies the extremes of our relationships to patterns… servant or master.
If I hadn’t become so fiercely independent, perhaps I’d feel at peace; nestled securely in the warmth and sturdiness of – you.
“I wish you’d let me help you.”
“I want to be here for you, but my efforts just seem to make it worse.”
“You always know what’s best for you, so I feel like I have nothing to offer when you’re going through something hard.”
How to identify a nervous system pattern:
Since we met in spring 2016 Stefan has been trying to tell me something about myself that I was willfully blind to. I couldn’t see it. We’re never ready til we’re ready, right? Besides, I felt justified in my ways.
“You’re right,” I’d say. “I DO know what’s best for me. What’s wrong with that? I’m really good at knowing how to take care of myself and I don’t understand why this upsets you. Why is this a bad thing?”
‘Justified’ is a pretty unyielding state. On top of that, I secretly (or not so secretly) wanted him to be better at taking care of himself instead of relying so much on me.
No wonder it took a year to crack this one open!
More like 27 actually.
We sat facing each other on the couch a month ago when I told him “I need you to be self-sufficient. I need you to be autonomous. I need to know you’re ok without me.”
Here was that pernicious nervous system pattern of mine in action, the one hiding in plain sight all these years that – once liberated – was about to rock my world when a savvy therapist asked me a few weeks later:
“Do you believe you deserve the kind of relationship you truly desire?”
What I couldn’t see and didn’t know about myself was ruling my life and painfully influencing my relationship (and business, but I’ll get to that part later). My recent behavior and feelings were a direct result of my subconscious patterns, and I: their unwitting accomplice.
“Do you believe you deserve the kind of relationship you truly desire?”
This question, along with a viral chest infection that lasted for five weeks (and I rarely get sick for more than 3 days), has drastically altered the course of my personal and professional life.
Did you know that it’s entirely possible to heal something and still carry around the nervous system pattern that created (or was created by) the old wound?
When this happens, the pain will keep hanging around (or come and go, but never leave completely), because the pattern keeps playing on repeat as directed by the brain.
This is true for physical trauma as well as mental and emotional pain.
What is a nervous system pattern?
A nervous system pattern can be a belief or behavior we have about or in relationship to ourselves, other people, the human body as a concept, our body specifically, money, relationships, the world etc.
Do I believe I deserve the kind of relationship I truly desire?
A nervous system pattern can also show up physically, with or without the presence of pain. If we’re experiencing pain then our body is asking us to change that pattern!
Many patterns are supportive, healthy and necessary for our vitality.
Then there are the ones that limit our vitality, and those are the ones I want to talk about.
A nervous system pattern can be how, where and why we process trauma – aka, stress of any kind – and whether we know how to move it out, or allow it to get stored in our body. (Shoulder knots, anyone?!)
If you’ve ever felt like you’re trying your hardest to heal something, you’re “doing everything right” and you’re still in pain, still feeling stuck, still repeating the same old story – then chances are there’s a nervous system pattern that’s running in the background.
This is why it’s possible to, say, get a (necessary) hip replacement and do all the PT, acupuncture and massage and STILL be in as much pain as before – because the brain and nervous system are still running a pattern of perceiving hip pain even if there’s no reason for it anymore.
I’ve personally seen this in my private practice, and – I’ve seen the pain go away when the nervous system patterns were interrupted and changed.
This is also why it’s possible to do a TON of therapy, self development, relationship work etc and heal the emotional or psychological trauma but still keep repeating the same patterns in our lives and relationships.
Do I believe I deserve the kind of relationship I truly desire?
Maybe you sprained your ankle when you were 10. Then, as a teenager and adult, you start rolling that same ankle a lot. The more this happens, the more it happens.
Just think about the “phantom limb” phenomenon for a moment: the amputated limb isn’t there, but the brain (nervous system) still perceives that it is. People with amputated limbs can even feelpain in the limb that’s no longer there! This is a nervous system pattern.
Or maybe, like me, you experienced some kind of psychological and emotional trauma or pain in the past that rears its head in your current relationships (I’m pretty sure we all experience this to varying degrees). The trauma is over, maybe it’s even healed fully, but the nervous system thinks it’s still happening – and you behave accordingly.
Do I believe I deserve the kind of relationship I truly desire?
Simply put, a nervous system pattern could be said to be the physical or psychological manifestation of perpetually re-living a past experience in the present.
Most of us have experienced, or will experience, pain or injury multiple times in our lives. Getting the right help to bring our bodies back into health can feel hard enough, and if we’re lucky enough to reach a point where we’re ready to get back to our favorite sport or activity, it can feel like an impossible mountain to climb.
We ask ourselves questions like:
“What if it happens again?”
“If there’s pain, do I stop or push through?”
“What if I do this thing and get re-inured so badly I can’t even walk?! Maybe I’m just not meant to be a ______ (runner, cyclist, mountaineer, swimmer, CrossFiter).”
I learned to run again after 8 years of believing I never would:
As most of you know, I had knee pain that prevented me from running for 8 years.
Now, I can run anything – short, long, pavement, trail, uphill, down steep mountains…and most of the time I’m completely pain-free.
I say most of the time because I’ve promised to never bullshit you, and the truth is on rare occasions I do have twinges of knee pain. However, it no longer scares me or stops me from doing what I love, and – by experiencing knee pain sometimes, I’ve discovered a few amazing facts about recovery after long standing injuries that will help me help you get back out there too.
I just went running the other day for the first time in a month or so. The first few steps were creaky and stiff, and I noticed a familiar tightening around my left knee – the kind that years ago would have meant sharp stabbing knee pain if I ran even one more minute.
Instead of contracting in fear or cutting my run short, I was able to use a trick I’ve learned well over the past 5 years and nothing came of those creaky joints except more movement, fluidity and I had a pain-free run.
I want to let you in on this trick so you can apply it to your own body and sport. I believe we can do whatever we want, if we can just find a way to support our bodies.
Mind games can work FOR or against us! Our choice.
Let’s say you just recovered from an acute or long standing injury. You’ve been “cleared” to get back out there.
Those first few moments as we return to an activity that either produced a sudden and scary injury, or perhaps gave us pain for years or stopped us from doing something for a long time? They can be terrifying and produce all kinds of mind games.
The overwhelming nervous system response seems to be one of FEAR:
Fear of pain.
Fear of re-injury.
Fear that we’ll set ourselves back another month or year or decade.
Fear that we won’t get this right and we’ll have to give up the activity we love for good.
Your mind might even be re-creating the pain or accident like a movie it’s watching on re-play, in slow-mo. You watch yourself get injuried over and over and over.
If you’ve ever tried to return to an activity after injury then you probably know what I’m talking about.
Your mind might even be clever enough to convince you you’re not afraid, but YOUR BODY KNOWS THE TRUTH.
Our bodies simply manifest what we are telling them with our subconscious or nervous system.
The subconscious doesn’t recognize negatives! Use this to your advantage:
Recently I’ve been challenged to see myself in a new light; to recognize a pervasive pattern of mine that at one time in my life kept me feeling safe, but is no longer necessary and in fact had became downright destructive to my relationship. I was creating a self-fulfilling prophecy (getting exactly what I didn’t want by letting my fears control my actions).
Gaining this new insight into my own behavior has helped me see, with even more clarity, how we often act on survival instincts and do things that may at first glance seem healthy or even ethically or objectively “right,” but are in fact keeping us stuck in unhealthy nervous system patterns.
This is just as true for the relationships we have with other human beings as it is for us and our bodies, and fascia (which feels everything, records everything, connects everything and in a lot of ways manages our abilities based on our emotions, beliefs, nervous system patterns, past injury patterns and current strengths and weaknesses).
Why do you eat what you eat?
If you’re reading this then I’m assuming you’re concerned (or interested in learning) about what types of foods you “should” be eating for optimal health (including fascial health). If so, then my very first question is “why?”
Your why is far more important than what you’re eating.
Why do you want to know?
Is your curiosity coming from a place of self love and wanting to honor your body?
Is your concern born of fear? Maybe you’re afraid of getting “fat” or getting cancer, or maybe you’re afraid of the pleasure you get eating that coffee ice cream (mmmmm) or that burger and fries; or maybe you don’t want to end up like a parent, friend or other loved one who has diabetes or heart disease or is always getting injured.
While our fears are totally valid and I believe they need to be heard and honored, acting from a place of fear will likely only produce a self-fulfilling prophecy – giving us exactly what we don’t want.
So what should we be doing instead?
First of all – I believe fear starts to fade in the face of facts, or looking at a situation with as much honest objectivity as possible. Simply acknowledging what is, without making it (or ourselves) right or wrong, goes a long way towards calming the nervous system (at least it does mine – you may be different).
When it comes to nutrition or diet and fascia, the facts may surprise you.
Does diet affect fascia?
I have clients who are totally dedicated to “healthy” eating (organic, paleo, gluten free, anti-inflammatory, probiotic etc), and I have clients who binge after jiu-jitsu tournaments on burgers, fries, candy and beer; and everything in-between (people who don’t watch their diet at all, and those who brew their own kombucha and make their own sprouts).
After all these years, there are definitely some patterns that have arisen around diet and how healthy (or not) a client’s fascia is:
Typically, the ones who obsess about eating healthy are also obsessing (and stressing) about other areas of their life as well; including how much or in what ways they exercise, whether or not they’re doing all the “right” things by their body; and it is these people who have the most consistently tight fascia that doesn’t want to let go; they get injured more frequently than my other clients and consequently they want to know what else they can “do” to prevent pain, injury, unhealthy fascia etc.
Meanwhile, the clients I have that either a) don’t stress at all about what they eat (and they probably eat “unhealthy” to varying degrees) or b) do the best they can and let go of any particular outcome, have the healthiest fascia, get injured the least and seem pretty content with their bodies and lives.
So you’ve heard a bit about fascia by now..but do you really know what it is and how it functions in your body?
Fascia (otherwise known as connective tissue) has become quite the buzzword. Which is awesome!
When I started working with fascia in 2008 very few of my new clients knew what it was. Now fascia is a huge topic getting a lot of attention and all of my clients have at least heard of it. Many of the articles I read are spot on. And, a lot of them are – in my opinion – missing what I consider to be the most important details about this critical tissue.
If you’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about, this post is for you!
What is fascia?
In its simplest definition, fascia is a collagen-like substance that separates and connects almost everything in the human body.
Most people are familiar with the kind of fascia found in a steak or chicken breast, because this is similar to the fascia that wraps our muscles – and this is still what most people think of when they hear the word fascia.
But what most people do NOT know is just how much fascia we have, how critical it is for our entire well being and that it’s found in the tiniest of places down to the cellular level.
We have more fascia than anything else, certainly more than muscles and bones!
Fascia wraps every single nerve ending and nerve, every fibril of muscle tissue as well as the fiber (which is made up of multiple fibrils); it wraps every muscle bundle and muscle group and then turns into tendon and ligament (also fascia), which connects to our bones, also wrapped in fascia. It wraps our organs too.
When we observe fascia at the microscopic level and THEN zoom out, things get really interesting. This is about to get sciency, so hang with me.
Why is fascia so critical?
I think we can all agree that nerves – and the nervous system – are critical for us to function optimally every moment we’re alive, right?
Every nerve in the body is a cordlike structure containing bundles of axons. Within a nerve each axon is surrounded by a layer of connective tissue (fascia) called the endoneurium. The axons are bundled together into groups called fascicles, and each fascicle is wrapped in a layer of connective tissue called the perineurium. Then, the entire nerve is wrapped in a layer of connective tissue called the epineurium.
Fascia wraps each part of a nerve and every nerve in its entirety, and we have a hundred billion of them!
The implications of this fact alone are enormous, and largely unstudied or talked about.
The nervous system is the master regulator of everything that happens to and within us in our lifetimes. Every thought we think produces a feeling, and every single feeling is FELT in the body as sensation, via the nervous system.
I’m convinced the fascia feels everything that our nerves do – perhaps on an even more intense or widespread level.
Take fear for example: whenever we feel fear we tend to experience it as anxiety or adrenaline, tension or stress. When we feel joy it’s often described as light, expansive, buoyant. Our feelings and actions every day direct the hormone cocktail released by the brain to regulate whatever state(s) we’re in.
Literally everything that happens to us in life – good and bad – is felt and recorded within the fascial structure or system.
I also have it on good authority (from an orthopedic surgeon) that fascia bleeds a LOT more than muscle when cut into. Fascia contains more of our blood supply than anything else. This fact alone also gives fascia an incredibly important role – by being the main source of fresh blood within the body.
Healthy fascia gives us “spring” (aka, it’s our shock absorption!)
All connective tissue has within it something called ground substance, one of the most important elements in the human body.
Ground substance is an amorphous gel like substance that surrounds every cell; it contains the nutrients that FEED every cell in our body, AND it takes the waste excreted by every cell and ushers it out of our body.
So basically – fascia is our nutrient AND waste distributor!
Do you have knots in your stomach? Do you process anxiety and stress in your gut, or have digestive issues?
The gut is a HUGE and very complicated topic. This post is meant to be a signal in the dark, a stopping point where you might glimpse a piece or two of your own unique “gut” puzzle; and I’ll give you a self-help abdominal release technique you can use to begin chipping away at the tension in your belly.
While this self-help work can be extremely beneficial, if possible I highly recommend that you find someone in your area who does Mayan Abdominal Massage. My entire abdominal region has never felt so light, free and spacious as it did after a massage with someone who specializes in this work.
Before I teach you today’s technique I have a question for you:
Are you listening to your gut?
I had horrible digestive issues for nearly 20 years that often meant I opted out of parties, excused myself from dates and hermitted at home even though I wanted to be around people because it was preferable to be alone than put a fake smile on my face and pretend I felt “normal” when I was really in a lot of pain.
The KEY (for me) to healing my gut wasn’t releasing the fascia in my abdomen.
I’m not going to tell my whole story or we’d be here all day, but essentially this boiled down to two things:
Is yours working for or against you when it comes to pain and pain relief?
Mine used to work obsessively to my own detriment. Now my mind is one of my most powerful allies, not just for me but all of my clients as well.
What we think about pain and how we REACT when it shows up, I believe, can and often does determine whether the pain stays, gets worse, or leaves as quickly as it came.
This is not to say that often (or always) there isn’t something physical going on too. Of course there is!
What controls the physical body? The brain and nervous system!
And what controls the brain? We do.
Who we are – our beliefs, stress triggers, past traumas (physical or otherwise), fight or flight response, nervous system habits and muscle memory – all of this and far more is entangled and, when pain shows up, can become a mess of reactivity that has almost nothing to do with our current circumstance.
Before you go dismissing this as a bunch of new age hooey, let me ask you…
Have you ever had something happen in your life that was mildly upsetting, and instead of being calm and assessing the reality of your situation you started obsessing with your mind and before you knew it…the situation went from mildly upsetting to a blazing inferno of “this is so f*cked up!”?
I’m pretty sure we’ve all done this, whether in relationships, traffic scenarios or any time we’re confronted by something undesirable. It’s no different when pain shows up.
Pain is upsetting, right? So it’s logical that we would feel alarmed, concerned and start thinking about it. HOW we think about it and WHAT we think about it determines what happens next. (And…what if pain didn’t have to be upsetting? What if we welcomed it as an intelligent message from our body? More on that later).
I let fear control me for 8 years!
I imagine there’s not a single person on this planet that decides consciously “I’m going to let this here fear control me.” We don’t do this on purpose. I certainly wasn’t aware of what was happening to me until I clawed my way out and looked back at myself with a new awareness. And now…
I believe most of what stopped me from running for 8 years and hiking for 6 was a mental construct. Did I have knee pain? Abso-freakin-lutely!
This wasn’t an overnight mental construct and pain helped create it.