“I don’t have an injury or anything, I just feel tight”
I hear this phrase a lot with my corporate clients when I provide massage therapy as part of their wellness program.
To be quite honest, this is one of the most superficial pieces of feedback you could ever give me.
Your “tightness” is what you are feeling.
Feelings are fickle.
They come and go.
What you feel is also really important.
It’s a good starting point.
It’s the entrance to the rabbit hole.
If I succeeded well enough at contradicting myself, I’ve piqued your interest.
The sensation of tension you are feeling is quite real. Anyone who tries to deny it is a jerk.
It’s superficial in the sense that nobody has probably asked you WHY you are feeling tense.
Your musculoskeletal system relies on tension to get you through the day.
Without it, you wouldn’t be able to stand up from sitting, climb stairs, or raise your coffee cup to your mouth.
You wouldn’t be able to smile without tension. Or laugh.
Without tension, you are powerless. You can’t move.
Why is your alarm system alerting you to an excess of tension in a localized area of your body?
Figuring out the WHY behind the WHAT will provide you with the best success at not only feeling better but also being able to carry out your daily tasks with improved focus, speed, and efficiency.
Bottom line: addressing WHY you are tight and tense increases your bottom line.
If you would like consult with me and work through my evaluation process to figure out WHY you are feeling tense, tight, and generally not your best, please email me at email@example.com to set up a free consultation to see if working together is a good fit.
If you are always feeling stiff, tight, “out”, and your knots keep coming back despite your best efforts, you may be missing vital pieces of information that will help you feel your best.
My Facebook feed is full of back-to-school photos today.
It’s so cute seeing all the Littles in their First Day outfits, eager to make good first impressions.
And while I don’t have kids of my own, I can’t help but feel a tug at my heartstrings of seeing my niece, backpack slung over her shoulders, eagerly getting on the bus and head into 1st grade like the superstar she is.
Makes me want to buy some crayons.
Imagine my surprise to also see a ton of stuff on my Facebook feed saying how this time honored tradition and right of passage of slinging a backpack over the shoulders wrecks a kid’s body.
[Insert “Say what, now?” face]
Stuff like, “don’t forget to get your child’s posture evaluated”, showing an elementary school age kid standing in front of a grid wall with before/after photos of what wearing and not wearing a backpack looks like to his posture.
Words like “health risk” and “danger” are being paired with “backpack”.
These articles and studies I’ve read keep mentioning loads and posture, which is such a loaded concept.
They talk about loads and posture as if it’s a fixed, unchangeable point.
Worst and Best.
Lawful good vs. chaotic evil.
Back-To-School Mode: UNLOCKED.
To say backpacks (or any bag for that matter) wrecks our kids’ (or our own) posture and leads to this-or-that musculoskeletal issue or structural diagnosis is kind of a dull, low-level understanding of how the body functions as a whole, dynamic entity.
It’s fine and dandy to stand in front of a grid wall to evaluate posture, but it’s only a snapshot because posture is always adapting.
It adapts to forces we carry (a force would be any weighted object we could carry; I.e. backpack, briefcase, toddler, grocery bag, coffee cup), loading joints as we go and moving through our environment.
How a joint loads differs on what, how, and where we are carrying all of the stuffs.
If we are on flat, uneven, hard, or squishy surfaces, let alone up hill or down hill (or stairs) makes a difference.
We adapt to the amount of the weight and what body part we are primarily relying on to carry that weight.
There are a ton of variables in our equation.
When did Homo sapiens become a bunch of wussies who aren’t able to move without aches and pains while carrying stuff?
I’m thinking it’s when we stopped carrying stuff and moving around.
Not the Enemy
Bags and backpacks aren’t the enemy; there’s nothing wrong with using them when we need to.
They make it convenient to carry larger, unruly amounts of stuff.
In less trips, and hands free.
And since most people don’t do much lifting and carrying heavy things these days, usually the loads in the center of the body are more comfortable than on our arms, hands, and shoulders.
Like I said, convenience. And comfort.
What happens when center mass can’t handle the forces anymore and now you feel an ache in some body part or other from carrying around your bag?
Your body is now poorly managing the forces placed on your body, muscles can be overworking or underperforming, and the joints being loaded aren’t responding with adaptable ease.
You are experiencing dysfunction.
Those parts are ill equipped, for whatever reason, to carry the weight.
Maybe they are tired.
Maybe there was a tweaky injury in there once-upon-a-time and now there’s some compensation patterns built up as your brain tries to figure out how to get the job done and avoid pain at the same time.
Don’t throw the backpack out with the bathwater just yet.
Loads are simply the experience of the thing.
Experiences can change.
If the complaint is the backpack makes for sore shoulders or low backs, switch how the backpack is carried.
Create some new habits. Load your joints in new and novel ways.
Switch when you start to fatigue because hey (!) you’re building strength and adaptations in new places now.
The only wrong answer is continuing to load your joints in painful ways when one method to carry out the task becomes cumbersome or excessively uncomfortable.
I think that’s the crux of the issue; we only do a small handful of activities with no variations on the theme.
Give the area you excessively work a recovery break by using another area you negligently use in your regular and daily habits.
The Great Posture Debate is really kind of dull.
It’s so yes/no these days.
The human body is too brilliantly complex and dynamic to distill it’s function down to a rigid set of “do this, not that” principals.
Remember, you have lots of different parts you can use to get the job done.
Do: move more of your body more frequently. Get creative. Explore.
Don’t: limit yourself. Or be afraid.
[bell rings] Class dismissed.
Do you feel aches and pains and limitations within your movement abilities?
It may be time to have those properly looked at.
If you would like to improve on your movement and postural potential, address any old (or new) injuries that never completely went away on their own, or explore possible compensation patterns that could be contributing to the “stress” you feel in your body, you can schedule a session here for a full evaluation and assessment.
How to get to some real solutions to eliminate tightness and discomfort versus chasing the pain with no long-lasting, permanent results. Yep, there is a better way.
It’s incredibly common to schedule yourself a massage when you are feeling sore, tired, and cranky.
That familiar burn behind your shoulder blades after a long day at the office. A crabby neck from falling asleep on the couch during the nightly Netflix numb-out. Maybe your knees and low back are shot after your lunchtime run.
If you have any experience receiving massage therapy, how often does the LMT zero in on your painful spot you point to, grounding, pounding, and chiseling away to only have the exact painful spot return?
If you’re lucky you get a small handful of relief for a few days. More often than not you only experience a few hours respite from the nagging discomfort you walked in with.
Are we doomed to wasting precious time and money on a therapy that, at best, is temporary, or at worst, does diddly-squat for those issues you feel in your tissues?
Here’s the Insider, Expert Level, Scoop:
Where you think it is…it ain’t
(Thanks, Ida Rolf, for the sound bite)
That sore/crabby/cranky/pissy/tight/pinchy thing you feel going on is merely a smoke signal; it’s informing you something is going on, but it doesn’t tell you exactly what it is.
Like a smoke signal, you need to be curious about it before it gives up the details.
From a manual therapy perspective, soft-tissues are often neurologically overworking or neurologically underperforming.
Ideally everything would be working effortlessly and seamlessly in concert together.
When you’re hurting, they likely aren’t.
Both the overwork/underperform states can leave you feeling sore, tight, and likely with some level of discomfort in various movements or activities that call on those muscle groups.
To simplify and restate:
An overworking muscle can feel tight and painful.
An underworking muscle can feel tight and painful.
Greeeeat! So which is it?
Million dollar question right here and one that will determine your success at feeling and moving better without a hitch in your giddyup.
In my massage therapy practice, I use an evaluation and muscle testing process that provides us with the information we need to determine what’s what.
If we find a muscle is neurologically amped up, then heck yeah (!), let’s release it. I will gladly press on it for you.
However, if a muscle isn’t properly utilized by your brain in a particular movement pattern, let’s call it “weak” for generalized simplicity’s sake, and not performing at it’s potential, all the deep tissue massage, stretching, cracking, and foam rolling isn’t going to do jack toward helping you recover and restore your ability to dynamically move without pain.
The process is quite simple:
Figure out what’s doing too much and too little (Buzzword: Compensation Pattern)
Turn down the volume on the overachiever
Get the slacker back in the game
What you experience is better, smoother, effortless movement with a happy and welcomed side effect of a less sore/crabby/cranky/pissy/tight/pinchy body.
Bonus side effect: you cut down on the potential for injury and tissue damage, as well as prevent possible wear and tear on the “hardware” of your body, ‘cause nobody got time for that.
Bonus bonus side effect: you have the ability and energy to show up in deeper, more profound, and effective ways for the people you love and the communities you serve.
A phrase typically thrown around during the middle-aged period of life where we feel like we are reaching the apex and it’s all downhill from there.
The rigors of chronology and physiology intersect as we mourn the passing of our youth, lament how this getting older thing sucks, and begin to see life as a cascade of downward spirals into the grave.
We may not be dead yet but we’re working on it, and we have the aches and pains to prove it.
I call BS on the whole thing.
The Smoky Mountains called. I answered.
This was my first trip in 6 years.
There’s something about spring in the mountains.
The weather is still cool, and the streams are strong after the snowmelt.
The birds are active, the bears are waking up, and the flowers explode all over the place.
The Hubs and I, along with good friends, rented a cabin in Gatlinburg, TN so we could be at the doorstep of the national park.
We aren’t interested in the touristy stuff that brings most people to the area, but 100% occupied with our big goals to hike.
Mountain trails are in a different league than the forest preserve trails at home.
The trails are uneven ground, full of rocks, roots, and mud.
There are log bridges over quickly running rivers, and sometimes you have to creek-hop your way across on rocks.
There are critters you may stumble upon that you need to know what to do about, because black bear are no joke.
You won’t likely see fitness enthusiasts with their step trackers and Couch-to-5k programs.
It can be life or death out there.
Take your time, take lots of water, and take some food for the trip. Learn how to pee in the woods, and check for snakes first.
You’ll take home with you a profound sense of accomplishment, likely some blisters, maybe some sore muscles, and definitely some new perspectives.
The mountains are great in humbling us and making us feel small.
When I hiked the Smokies 6 years ago I had a rough time with it.
The amount of soreness and fatigue I’d feel in my muscles and the stiffness I’d feel in my joints would lay me up for days.
This time was different.
I’ve been working on correcting my alignment, strengthening weak, overly mobile areas, and building more movement into my day as a categorical concept instead of just making sure I got my “workout” in.
I look at movement as something natural, healthy, and something we humans are designed to do more of.
Working on my Natural Movement made all the difference.
6 years older and 6 years wiser, I hiked more miles in consecutive days than I have ever in my entire life.
There were definitely moments where I had to dig deep.
There were times, when the fatigue would really set in, where my mind told me I wasn’t going to make it. My body, however, is way more capable than my mind gives credit. This isn’t a situation where I can just call it quits on the side of a mountain and call it a day.
You reach your limit, then learn that the actual limit is just beyond your perceived comfort zone.
I’d often feel an ache creep up somewhere, but the alignment and awareness work I’ve been working on for the past few years helped me key in on what was going on in my body.
Is something working too hard? Why? What is slacking? Adjust accordingly.
My new found whole-body awareness allows me to fire up my body in more effective and efficient ways and aches and pains would go away within seconds.
I moved in ways I wasn’t able to when I was younger and in, what I thought, better shape.
6 years older I move much better than I did when I was 6 years younger.
I experienced and enjoyed my body in a more positive way, which allowed me to experience and enjoy nature in a more positive way too.
Getting older chronologically doesn’t have to mean we suffer pathological aging.
Notice I say it doesn’t have to mean this.
For many it does. Why?
It’s not so much that you peaked too soon in your 20-somethings as you have now spent days-to-decades not moving like in your youthful days.
Think about it: You felt great “back in the day”; what were you doing? What physical activities were you participating in regularly? How many hours of sitting did you accomplish’’’’ in any given day? Was your ratio of being active versus sedentary different than it is now?
Blame that, not your age.
It’s not your age’s fault for the creaking, cracking, groaning, and grunting you experience in your body.
Your body is performing in a manner to the exact activities you are asking it to perform on a regular basis.
Stepping out of that regular routine, your body will tell you about it.
Not age. Adaptation. Often dysfunctional adaptation.
While we don’t have the power to “turn back the clock”, we are capable of changing up our routine and adapting to something different than whatever our “normal” is right now.
You can teach an old dog new tricks.
I’ve spent the last 2 ½ years working to adapt my body to something different because I was not enjoying how my body was feeling on it’s path to 40.
As my body nears the “Over the Hill” Birthday in a year, I choose to walk over actual hills and erase almost 4 decades of moving through life in less than ideal, often dysfunctional and compensatory, ways.
I’m covered a lot of ground and I still have quite a ways to go. The road to Mastery is steep, long, and well worth the effort for those curious enough to explore. Dust off your grit and get to steppin’.
Don’t buy the black birthday balloons for me quite yet.
You’ll never hear me blame my age for anything, and if I hear you try, be warned: I’ll probably call you out on it.
Bearing the weight of the world on your shoulders is an exhausting task, a task that wipes out and tears down even the strongest people with the greatest willpower and fiercest constitution.
We live in a culture that praises a schedule designed to overwhelm.
At work, home, and play we wipe ourselves out, drinking from empty cups, feeling stressed out, fatigued, cranky, and sad.
We know it’s killing us, yet why do we keep trying so hard to keep up with the very things we’re likely to complain about to our closest friends?
I recently had an amazingly valuable conversation with a new client in my massage therapy office about the very real physical tensions she is feeling arising from the equally real mental overwhelm and stress she is also experiencing.
She wondered if the two go hand-in-hand.
Her desire to take more robust care of herself was so strong she couldn’t ignore it, however, the status quo of doing everything and being everyone in all things is in direct competition with her inner guidance system.
What are we supposed to do in this situation?
The reality of the matter is we are a people who thrive in supportive, caring communities.
We need mercy.
Because of our tremendous need, we are also uniquely positioned to be supportive, caring people who recognize the same need in others and offer assistance to the people around us.
However, because our current cultural norms and standards praise busyness, overwhelm, and stress, most people lack the ability to even ask for help when in need due to the subconscious scripts informing us that “asking for help” is the ultimate sign of weakness.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We find ourselves in a Catch-22: we thrive in supportive communities and environments, yet we never enter into or participate with them because of the lie we are fed.
In our fear of vulnerability, we isolate ourselves.
Isolation further breeds more overwhelm and stress causing us to lose perspective, eroding our ability to problem solve, creating fatigue and more stress, with the final outcome of actually causing bodily breakdown.
Anyone who has ever survived through the very real experience of Burnout knows the truth in this “chase your tail” situation.
Radical Care Concept Challenge: Support
Everyone needs help from time to time.
This week’s challenge is about becoming aware of your need and the need of others.
Too often we are afraid to ask for help, or we are increasingly distracted by the noisiness around us, often on our screens a few inches from our faces.
Awareness is something that needs to be built into your daily schedule before it becomes a regular practice and a part of your character.
Please don’t get hard on yourself if you decide to participate in this R2C Challenge; opening your eyes and heart is not something that happens consistently overnight.
If You Need Help: Ask for it!
This is going to feel scary. Do it anyway.
What do you need help with that you legitimately have difficulty shouldering right now?
Caveat: Notice how the most “unhelpful” people are also the same people who are quick to judge? It might show up as gossiping or providing an opinion on a matter when no one asked for it. Being a nosey busybody is also a sign. Be cautious about asking that person for help.
Seek support from someone whose heart you can trust.
Asking a Sandpaper Person for their help is a surefire way to erode your confidence in your ability to ask for support.
Ask If You Can Offer Help:
If you don’t feel like you can ask for help, or if you genuinely don’t have anything you need help with, build awareness by opening your eyes to see the need for mercy around you.
Ask around and fill in the blanks with what you’re physically and emotionally capable of aiding.
PS: this might feel scary too. Do it anyway.
The more you are able to recognize and be aware of peoples’ needs, you’ll be better equipped to recognize it within yourself.
Caveat: Don’t be the Judgmental Helper.
You don’t get to decide the parameters or worthiness of a person’s need.
The Asker defines support. Barring any legal or physical dangers, being sure to actively maintain your own integrity and honoring your personal values, step in appropriately.
Don’t take away a person’s agency to help themself.
Be cautious about completely taking the responsibility on yourself. People in need are rarely 3 year olds with zero emotional problem-solving skills.
Sometimes, the best help you can give is sitting with this person, shoulder-to-shoulder, with your mouth shut.
Nothing is more empathetic then sitting with someone in need as they navigate life.
They are capable and they will thrive in supportive community, so be supportive community.
Well-intentioned, truthful advice incorrectly applied with insensitivity can destroy people.
If You’ve Been Asked for Help:
Do it. Do not pass go…do not collect $200.
Please-please-please don’t drop the ball.
When someone asks you for help, it takes tremendous courage for that person to bare their vulnerabilities to you.
If you give them the old, “yeah, I’ll do it later” brush off, or only half listen because you are distracted by your own perspectives and numbing techniques, you will effectively erode that person’s trust in you.
By not listening, nor following through, you are reinforcing the cultural context about how you shouldn’t really ask for help.
Bottom Line:You get to decide if you’re going to be the cure, or a part of the disease.
No person is an island. We can’t do it alone. Honor your need for help.
Help those in need with eyes, arms, and heart open wide.
We are not made to walk through life, struggling alone, in life’s hardships.
As the old saying goes, “Many hands make light work”; get creative and see where your hands, your good heart, and your words can speak life into someone else’s experience.
We are a people in need and we have incredible capacity to extend compassion in like measure.
To-do lists keep getting longer, distractions get louder, and expectations are damn hard to fulfill. Pressures placed by society, family and social groups, religious affiliations, the media, work, even ourselves, can alarmingly weigh us down. Pressure, and the stress accompanying it, feels terrifyingly heavy.
In my own life, I feel the pressures of being a small business owner, a wife, a daughter and a friend.
My husband asks why the dishes and laundry are never done and why I wait until the last minute to get to the grocery store. My parents ask when they can expect a grandchild. I feel separated from my Mom friends and family because I don’t qualify to be in their club, and evidently I have no clue what overwhelm feels like. I am behind on my continuing education in massage therapy because I have been studying the business side instead. I want to factor in more white space in my schedule to make room for taking care of myself, spending time with God, and to be available for my friends. I’d like to take my dogs for a walk. I’d like to have time to exercise, shower and eat breakfast most mornings. I’d like to fit back into my “skinny” jeans. I want flawless hair and skin.
And while I keep my plates spinning I get to see everyone’s perfectly edited highlight reel on social media; their 6-figure businesses, easily attained beach ready bodies, and beautiful, well-behaved children and GQ husbands who take out the garbage.
Life appears effortless and awesome, and I feel more and more disconnected and ungrounded.
Sometimes I find myself asking, “Nina, what the F is wrong with you? Why can’t you keep up?”
The challenges feel mighty and sometimes the only sweetness I savor is from the organic bakery nearby.
A lot of my stress–my soul pressure–comes from feeling like I’m not enough.
I often feel the sharp point of perfectionism. It’s not unusual for me to think, “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t know enough”.
These thoughts regularly cause me tremendous anxiety and fear. This fear makes it impossible to respond productively to any challenge in front of me, undermining my confidence and abilities in overcoming adversity.
The little voice in my head repeats my failings on a loop, and there is no way I can overcome the barrier in front of me.
Growth stops. Stress remains.
To make matters worse, I plug into the self-defeating shame I hear in my head and allow it to fuel my actions– which at this point are completely irrational and not very productive. This is where I’m a mess and become the person no one wants to be around and everyone thinks should be medicated.
I feel unfit for human consumption.
I am a perfectionist.
I’d like to think owning this characteristic will help me become a recovering perfectionist.
Being a perfectionist goes way beyond setting high standards for oneself, developing mastery and excellence, or having a keen eye for detail. These are positive attributes, but a perfectionist takes it a step further; it becomes a hard-driving force behind identity that stifles creativity and puts pressure on relationships.
For a perfectionist, a challenge presents a Win/Fail opportunity; the lessons learned along the way are not always seen. The journey is bleak and fraught with self-defeat.
If you win you are a Winner, if you fail you are a Failure. It’s deeply personal, internalized, and insulated.
I’ve set unusually high, often unobtainable, standards for myself. I was counseled at some point in my early academic career to remember, “Even when you know you’ve done a good job, always remember someone else has done better than you”. I grabbed on tightly to the idea that if someone out performed me, I was not as much of a blessing to my family.
Second Place is really First Loser.
I got paid for A’s on my report card; B’s awarded me a lecture on how I didn’t work hard enough. Couple that mentality with the majority of my childhood friends being high-level over-achievers who ranked higher than me, I often felt sub-par. I was exhibiting disordered stress patterns in the 2nd Grade.
Sometimes these standards trickle over onto the people closest to me.
When I am tough on myself, I become tough on everyone around me. I feel angry, judgmental and hypercritical. My power cord is plugged in the wrong outlet of criticism and punishment instead of love and understanding.
In my professional life, I have found some balance to perfectionism. It has driven me to pursue high quality education from exceptional teachers, and I have created a practice model not typically found in the massage therapy profession in my community. However, when I try to expand on the ideas of growing professionally, building my practice, and designing a new practice model, perfection paralysis takes hold and stops me in my tracks. The little “you aren’t good enough” voice speaks up.
I feel unworthy and useless when my ideas don’t pan out the way I expected them to.
When I can’t seem to figure out how social media or network marketing works, or newsletters go unopened, ignored and unread, I hear, “nobody cares about what you have to say. Nobody cares about you”! And, for some, that may be true; opening myself up to share my story makes me feel exposed.
I am opening myself up to outside criticism and judgment, and Perfectionist Me is freaking out.
There are other times when I’m plugged into something way more powerful and I feel alive and on fire.
Self-acceptance and love wash over me and I feel like I can do anything I set my mind to. In this space I feel like setbacks are lessons, not attacks, and I have the calm perspective to see the proper course correction needed to get back on track. I feel inspired, plugged into genius, brilliance and divinity. Options are available, lessons are learned gracefully, and my growth and maturity level up.
I can lovingly laugh at myself. I feel relaxed.
This is where I want to live all of the time!
I’m slowly learning to positively and truthfully re-identify myself.
For me, this has been a deeply spiritual lesson, and I greatly rely on my mentors at the church my husband and I attend. I have been loved and challenged at the same time, and the newfound conclusions I am coming to, based off of God’s Love, have been difficult, rewarding, and much needed.
My closest friends, my connection network, are also an integral part of helping me learn, as Brene Brown calls it, “the gifts of imperfection”. I can trust them to not demand perfection from me, and they continuously remind me to be gentle to myself. I know they have the courage and strength to hear my story and support me in it, and sometimes help lift me out of it.
They have the stamina to love me, not despite my imperfections, but because of them.
As to the other bits that fire up my perfectionism, with a lot of talk therapy, research and prayer on the issues at hand, I’ve come to understand some things are out of my hands and will always be out of my hands.
It’s not worth it to harshly criticize myself for other peoples’ actions. What others do in their lives has no significant impact on my own.
We all have agency for our own actions, and not everyone is going to like everyone else. I can’t please everyone no matter how hard I try, and I am not a failure if I fail to make people like me.
I regularly remind myself I can only do what I can do, when I can do it.
With more love, understanding, and acceptance of myself, and everyone around me, recognizing we are all imperfect people, life feels sweeter, more brilliant, and divine. There is more flow and less crashing.
There is more compassion and empathy.
Challenges are met with grace and gentleness, and don’t feel like personal attacks, but opportunities to really learn what I am capable of. I just may surprise myself!
I can certainly deal with more of that in my life. I crave more of that in my life.
I think the world needs more understanding and acceptance and less criticism and judgment. It starts here, with myself.
It’s completely my choice, despite any challenge or adversity that comes my way, to choose not to let the stress of perfectionism in when it knocks on the door.
Do I choose criticism, or patience? Judgment, or understanding?
I choose gentleness and love. Perfectionism can knock, but she can’t come in.