The human body is hardwired to maintain balance on every level, emotional, chemical and structural. Science calls this homeostasis. Our body is constantly adapting to the internal and external environments. When we think of a body as being unstable we tend to think along the lines of maybe an old person bent over and frail. Or someone with an injury trying to move around it to maintain an upright posture. Stability isn’t actually what you might think. Its not based on muscular strength or motor control. Its structural strength. I learnt this a long time ago when I was exploring pilates to add to my Personal Training qualifications. But it didn’t really take off. The buzz words back then and even now were core stability. I don’t think this paints a true picture of stability. Structural strength is the capacity of individual elements to withstand load and transmit forces from gravity to movement to all the elements within a structure. If this is out of balance, joints pay the price. We can do repetitive movements poorly over and over again via life or even exercises performed incorrectly ……bear in mind here, a movement may well look right and even impressive but if its structural starting point is due to compensationary patterns then this is neurological instability. You can become segmentally flexible or segmentally strong but we need to not function as individual parts but in harmony. Joints suffer if there are compensations going on regularly and inevitably end in injury or pain.
Throughout our lives our body communicates with us. We have “pre-pain”signals that we often ignore. They can even come from places we don’t associate with pain or problems structurally such as the enteric system(gut). We often ignore these until the signal becomes “Sudden chronic pain”. You have heard of chronic pain and acute pain but this is a pain that we perceive to have come on suddenly and from “nowhere”. But it really didn’t. Your body has probably been trying to warn you of this for quite sometime before it decided “enough was enough” and gave you an almighty kick!
You’ve all heard of me bang on and on about fascia (unless you’re new to my classes – in which case I will warn you in advance ……unless you really are interested, probably best not to ask me about fascia, that could be a very long conversation!) To really simplify fascia….
All fascia is connective tissue but not all connective tissue is fascia.
Fascia is the single most abundant material in the body. Our connective tissue guides the way for our muscles, bones , nerves and everything else in the body to grow. Lines of connective tissue give us the ability to create dynamic movement. Fascia is a matrix that gives our muscles, bones , nerves and other structures the definitive support and connection they need to maintain an upright posture and pain free movement. It actively holds us together, and gives us our shape and connection between all the systems that impact stability.
For years in dissection fascia was cut away to allow scientists to study the muscles, bones, etc of the body. We now know that fascia is what holds this all together. Muscles move bones but fascia provides us with our shape.
To over simplify, it’s like a giant bag that resembles a spiders web that is fluid and constantly moving and adapting. When this system becomes dehydrated we start to experience things like stiffness on standing from sitting or when getting out of bed. Remember the pre-pain signals I talked about earlier? This is an example of that. In MELT we refer to this as stuck stress. One of the purposes of MELT is to help improve hydration within the fascia to reduce or eliminate this stiffness or pain.
In the fitness world we spend a lot of time assessing peoples posture but as I pointed out earlier, someone could appear to have good posture but still be stiff or in pain. This could be due to muscle compensation and fascial dehydration. The muscles have created new patterns to hold the posture but meantime the fascia is dehydrating. By MELTing we can help to rehydrate the fascia and encourage the joints back to stability with correct re-patterning (this comes later in your MELT journey) and get the muscles back to doing their job properly.
The MELT living body model uses a number of terms to simplify systems of the body. The autopilot describes the body’s nervous system. The autonomic systems of the body support, protect and stabilize you without your voluntary control. Over time these systems can learn to manage the instability better and therefore allow the dysfunction to continue. So lets say you are doing the same bunch of exercises regularly but your knees ache and your back aches, you aren’t training your joints to improve their stability, your nervous system has learnt to manage the compensations despite your autopilot flashing a red light telling you that something is wrong (remember those pre pain signals!). So we really need to address the compensations and encourage the autopilot to relocate to our centre of gravity and listen to it as it warns us of imbalances and dysfunction.
Body sense is another term used constantly in MELT. We have the ability to sense signals from our bodies. Some of these are the obvious such as when we are hungry and need to pee etc etc. But again I refer to these pre pain signals that we switch off from. MELT encourages us to tune back into our body sense. To not use touch or sight to work out what we feel within our bodies but to tune back in with our minds. It’s the element of MELT that I think is a really Mindful exercise. For me this not only helps me to identify stuck stress but to help me to bring my focus to my body, my breath and ultimately to bring me back to me.
Masses and spaces are really simple terms used instead of anatomical terms. Masses are the bones and spaces are the joints. As an instructor I love nothing more than rattling off the names of various parts of the body but this can be very off putting for many people. So MELT created these terms to help people identify parts of their bodies.
However, sometimes I like to throw in things like piezoelectricity. This is the fill effect we get after shearing in MELT and this along with mechanotransduction (neurochemical changes) is simplified to Tensional Energy in the MELT living body language. We learn 2 directional lengthening techniques such as hip to heel press which are great ways to send fluid flow through the fascia after shearing and can be used instead of rinsing if needed.
There are other terms used in MELT and on your journey through MELT I will of course explain them to you.
MELT as many of you now know is a system that follows a definite process. The different processes of MELT are done in a specific order which has been designed to give the greatest benefit and effect.
They are Glide, Shear, WAIT, (piezoelectrical effect), Rinse and in the case of the hands and feet, Friction.
I hope that your MELT journey will be a long and fruitful one and I hope also that I will be able to be part of that journey for many years to come. Happy MELTING.
I want to delve a little bit more into the world of fascia but also into its link to our nervous system and my thoughts on it.
I like to simplify the way I talk about fascia to people (unless you’ve caught me on a good day when I bleat on about it endlessly until I’m told to stop!) So here is how I think you might be able to relate a bit better to what fascia is partly about.
If you try to imagine a huge fluid spiders web then you will come close to what your superficial fascia resembles. Remember that fascia isn’t just superficial (on the surface) it is in every part of us, cells, bones, muscles etc etc. But rather than throw all that stuff at you I thought it best to start with the stuff nearest the surface.
So when your spiders web is nice and juicy (don’t you just love this word) and fluid , you are juicy and fluid. But when parts of your web start to dry out then your ability to be juicy and fluid reduces. So rather than think about muscles individually , lets think about muscles moving within this fluid, juicy web. They move well when you are fluid and so as a result do the joints that the muscles move. So imagine if you have areas of dehydrated tissue within that spiders web, it follows that the muscles won’t perform well without the fluidity and so compensations will start to occur and they, over time will produce “sudden chronic pain” and poor joint stability. So by hydrating our fascia we help to keep our fascia fluid and juicy and also our muscles.
If we want to look at this slightly closer then think of it like this; the thing that alters our stability and produces compensation mostly is stress. You might think that stress is produced by the mind, but it is our bodies that endure, manage and absorb stress. Over time that stress gets trapped and accumulates in our bodies, in particular our connective tissue.
How do you know if your stability system is overloaded? Remember the last article where I mentioned pre pain signals (many times!), well that’s how we know. Things such as waking up feeling stiff, like a dried out sponge. Low back or neck ache, joint stiffness especially after sitting for long periods of time. You may recall from the last article in MELT this is referred to as Stuck stress. Left unaddressed this can result in ever more noticeable symptoms such as , chronic tension, compression in the neck or low back, a sense of hypermobility in the joints, the urge to crack your joints, prolonged muscle soreness after exercise and a propensity to stress injuries. These are common symptoms. And sadly this is when people start to pop pills to help. You may also notice things that you wouldn’t relate to connective tissue such as , inflammation, anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, digestive problems, lack of energy. The list goes on. And so again people tend to turn to pharmaceuticals. This to me is the body crying out for help, for you to notice that stuff isn’t right. Of course, you should always rule out disease. And when you have done that and still can’t find answers consider your connective tissue.
A favourite saying in the fitness world is “you can’t out train a bad diet”. And it’s true. So many people I know think that by training hard they can justify the sugar or the alcohol or the salty snacks. But answer me this, how do you feel after these “pick me ups?” Do you feel uplifted and energised for hours after? I suspect not. All of this contributes to stress in our systems. You may not feel bad right now but what you do now is an investment in what comes later, so is it really worth thinking “I feel fine so this cake and cocktail aren’t doing me any harm!” Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but what about next year?
That leads me onto the Parasympathetic and Sympathetic nervous systems and the role they play. Think of the Sympathetic system as the Stress regulator and the parasympathetic system as the restore regulator. And we can add in here the gut which is known as the enteric system which is the gut regulator.
So the Sympathetic system increases heart rate, perspiration and pupil dilation in response to what it perceives as incoming stress. The parasympathetic system relaxes these functions to restore these to maintain internal balance.
Let’s use the classic angry bear analogy here. I think most of you know this one. Many moons ago we needed to be able to respond quickly to threats to our lives. So if an angry bear approached we need the sympathetic system to give us the tools to either stand and fight or run away. We rarely meet an angry bear these days and so we now have a different perception of stress. A client or customer who is cross and ranting at you causes you stress, a phone call with someone with makes you angry, or partner or child leaving a mess when you’ve just tidied up. All these things tend to switch on our sympathetic system and so we are spending far too long in what is known as “sympathetic dominance”. And our bodies are suffering as a result. By using MELT as a self care tool, we can, through sequences like rebalance, calm our sympathetic nervous system and restore the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. In fact rebalance is a really good sequence to do half an hour before bed if you are feeling out of balance.
Only when the restore regulator is functioning efficiently can intuition, healing cell renewal and REM sleep, among other functions occur.
So as you are the only one who literally HAS to live with you, why not work with yourself to make it a mutually beneficial relationship.