Deserving Desires: A Nervous System Story

“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 feel pain 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?

Hmmmmm….

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.

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Are You (Unknowingly) Making Your Pain WORSE? Learn to Help Your Body Find the ROOT CAUSE

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What if the FIRST thing you do when pain happens is the LAST thing you should do if you want true relief?

If you’re like most people on the planet when pain happens then you probably do the ONE thing that seems to be in our biology. It’s instinctual, habitual and seemingly benign. But chances are it WON’T get you out of pain, and it just might make things worse.

You go to and touch whatever is hurting:

  • Your knee gets a stabbing pain, folds you in half and you reach down to touch it.
  • Your back seizes up and you instinctively grab it and feel around as you try to stand upright.
  • Your shoulders hurt, so you massage them (or ask someone else to).
  • Your elbow hurts, and you grab hold of it.
  • You get a tension headache and hold your head in your hands.
  • Et etc.

This first act in and of itself is perfectly natural and it makes total sense that we’d instinctively want to make contact with our pain.

It’s what we do NEXT that truly matters.

Do you REACT to the pain and fixate on what’s hurting?

OR

Do you get CURIOUS and try to find the root cause?

The habit most of us have is to fixate on what’s hurting followed closely by an attempt to silence, comfort or eliminate the pain: maybe you take an over the counter pain killer that’s already in your medicine cabinet; maybe you gently rub or massage that area; maybe you ice it (because you probably learned the very outdated RICE protocol in middle school, which for the record I’m not a fan of at all).

When these mild reactions don’t work you might seek out help from professionals who are a little more aggressive than you: perhaps you try a deep tissue massage or a chiropractic adjustment. And while these might seem like very good ideas, if they are also fixated on the site of pain and not looking elsewhere for the CAUSE, then you’re still caught in the same trap.

Or maybe you try to isolate and immobilize the area via a knee, back, wrist or ankle brace or boot…

What’s missing from this approach?

What ALL of these reactions have in common is a complete lack of curiosity about and awareness of THE REST OF YOUR BODY.

This habit of fixating on what’s hurting at the exclusion of the rest of the body is so ingrained that most healing modalities in western culture have adopted it as well.

If you seek out a medical professional for help with your pain, chances are – unless they are very holistic in their approach to pain (and these professionals DO exist, though it’s been my experience that they are rare) – they will look at/palpate and/or X-ray, MRI or ultrasound the site of pain and suggest a course of action that focuses only on the site of pain: cortisone shots, pain pills, surgery, a brace, a boot, orthotics or shoe lifts etc.

Even so-called alternative and holistic methods more often than not (in my experience, and I was one of these when I was a massage therapist) focus on where the pain is, instead of looking for the cause. If you go to a massage therapist for back pain, I’d be willing to bet that a large majority of therapists will go straight for your back. If you go to a chiropractor for neck pain, chances are pretty high they will adjust your neck.

I will say I have sought out chiropractors, massage therapists and acupuncturists who “get” the idea that where the pain is isn’t the problem, so they absolutely do exist; but I had to weed through a bunch of others first who didn’t get it and I still see this mentality being the status quo of both western and alternative practitioners who deal with people in pain.

It’s my position that this is precisely why there are so many people in pain who aren’t getting the relief they so desperately want, because MOST of the time…

Where the pain is is NOT the problem!

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Foam Rolling and The IT Band (Hint: It’s NOT the Enemy!)

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“I have an IT Band issue.”

I can’t tell you how many times I hear this from new clients who believe the IT Band is at the root of all their problems, from knee pain to back pain.

Google “foam rolling” and you’ll see more videos for how to roll the IT band than any other muscle in the body. I see people in the gym every day foam rolling the crap out of their IT band the way it’s been traditionally taught and I want to yell: STOP!

The IT Band is NOT your enemy.

The main job of the IT band is to stabilize us from knee to hip (or hip to knee). It needs to have a high degree of tension (tightness) in the direction of knee to hip to do that job.

Notice the picture on the right: the IT band is white, whereas the other major muscles are shown in red. This isn’t a mistake. While all muscles have a lot of fascia holding them together, the IT band is special in that it is mostly made of connective tissue (fascia) and almost looks like a giant tendon or ligament rather than a muscle.

Don’t make the mistake of rolling your IT band out like pizza dough!

Foam rolling as it is traditionally taught targets muscles (not fascia), and the method is typically an attempt to force the muscle to change via manipulation from the outside.

To actually stretch fascia and effect change, we need to pin it in place and then get the tissue to change itself through movement.

Watch the second video (below) to learn how I roll the IT band by

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How to Uncouple Suffering From Pain

 

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Pain and suffering are NOT synonymous! If you’re in pain (physical, mental, emotional), it doesn’t automatically mean you’re doomed to suffer.

What is the difference?

Pain is simply information. If we’re talking about physical pain in the body, it is the sensory information our body is using to get our attention and ask for help. That’s it! Even using the word “pain” is a distraction from the truth, because most of us assume pain is bad. It’s not! We should all celebrate that our bodies talk to us via pain in order to stop us from doing things that could seriously injure or kill us.

Suffering, on the other hand, is the meaning we attach to the sensory information we’re receiving from our body.

The best possible way to separate these two is to fully accept and celebrate that pain is your body talking to you, and then foster an attitude of curiosity about it. What is your body trying to tell you, and ask of you?

Most of the time when we experience pain we go into panic mode and react emotionally with frustration or irritation towards our body (the very thing that is trying to helps us!)

What if we replaced those reactions with genuine curiosity? What might we discover?

What is Fascia and Why Should We Care?

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If I could have every person on this planet study just ONE thing to stay healthy, it would be the fascial system. In a previous post I shared a video by Thomas Myers, who is the fascia expert of our time. He does a wonderful job explaining what fascia is and I recommend you watch that video as well if you’re committed to learning about your fascia. And I wanted to share some of my own thoughts here.

We have more fascia than anything else in our bodies. Fascia (or connective tissue) is the name we give to the web-like structure of tissues that hold us together, from the cellular level to the “sacs” that wrap huge muscle groups.

To the right is a small picture of the fascial system, and you can see how it wraps every individual muscle fibril, fiber, bundle and entire groups of muscles, and then all of that connecting fascia is what turns into tendon and ligament, which in turn attaches to our bones or joints.

All of that fascia is meant to be elastic and flexible and able to move with us freely as we go about our lives and sports. But almost everyone I know today has unhealthy fascia (myself included). Even if you’re not in pain, it doesn’t mean your fascia is in optimal health! And if you are in pain, then your fascia is especially unhealthy and in a state of imbalance.

Fascia is the superhighway for communication from the brain to the body and back again. It houses our nervous system and is the channels through which blood needs to flow to nourish tissues, muscles, joints and organs.

When our fascia is adhered to itself and in a state of dehydration and unhealthy tension then blood won’t flow freely through the body, which can cause all manner of “itis’s” (inflammatory responses like tendinitis, arthritis, bursitis etc). Those knots you feel in your shoulders? That’s not tightness and it’s NOT your muscle! It’s fascia that’s adhered to itself because it’s being pulled on (or overstretched) by bigger more dominant muscles or postural habits, and it’s forming “knots” in an attempt to stay where it belongs instead of being pulled somewhere else.

Imbalances in the fascial system left to right and front to back (leg leg to right leg, or front to back in your legs or upper body) will cause everything from plantar fasciitis to low back and hip pain to shoulder range of motion issues.

When we release tight fascia and put space back into that connective tissue system, blood flows freely, movement becomes fluid and pain stops.

I recently had a client tell me he believes his stigmatism is getting better after just two sessions of opening the fascia in his upper body! I’ve had other clients who came for shoulder pain or migraines tell me they’re seeing better after we unblock the “dams” (tight fascia) blocking blood flow to the ocular nerve!

I could go on and on, and geek out on this all day! But I’ll leave at this for today: fascia is extremely important and if you want to take responsibility for your body’s health, I cannot recommend enough that you start learning more about it and how to stretch it properly and keep it healthy. Which is precisely what I intend to help you do here at Mobility Mastery.

 

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