FORCING RELAXATION AND OTHER THINGS TO NOT TRY AT HOME
Today I was reminded of the importance of working WITH the body versus forcing the body to do something painful it isn’t ready for yet.
It sounds so obvious when I say it (or when I type it). What else would you do with the body?
Work against it?
Yeah. Actually, sometimes medical approaches aim to do just that: to interfere with, block, or oppose the body's processes.
And sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed. Like when you have an auto-immune condition and your immune system is brutally attacking your own body from the inside. That’s a good process to interrupt and re-direct!
But other times, the wisdom of the body is ignored, adding even more injury to existing dysfunction.
I had a young patient come in who had dental surgery to remove their wisdom teeth. The surgeon was aggressive and determined to get all of the wisdom teeth although one wisdom tooth “wouldn't cooperate.”
So the surgery went long. The recovery was even longer.
The person could barely open their mouth after the procedure because of intense pain in their jaw. They never had jaw pain before.
This person could barely eat or drink because their mouth was only opening a few centimeters!
The surgeon's response, and other members of their team, was to pry the jaw open. To force it open with a metal "expander" tool. And advised the patient to push through tears and screams. To MAKE the jaw open wider.
After chatting with this young person and their mother, it was clear to me what their body was saying.
Their body was asking for more gentleness.
And for consent to be at the forefront of working TOGETHER.
I shared what I found: the muscles of the jaw (the masseter and pterygoid muscles) were so tight that they were restricting movement.
The jaw was stuck in a retracted position because tight muscles were keeping it locked down. (And there was likely massive force used to pull out 3 semi willing and 1 very unwilling molar.)
I explained, “we need to work with your body. We cannot force your body to relax.”
If we want to return to a state of harmony, we must provide what is missing.
This is the wisdom of higher medicine.
The right medicine, the right dose, the right time, the right way - where you give the body exactly what it needs. Nothing more, nothing less. With as little negative side effects as possible.
After a surgical procedure when the body has been forced into a position of maximum tension for long periods of time, the body does not want or need more force.
It actually craves the opposite: tender support that invites safe surrender.
Have you ever tried to force yourself to relax? It. Never. Works.
Why do you think that is?
Have you ever tried to hammer the knots in your shoulder into submission? (Please tell me you haven’t!?)
It’s a reallllly bad idea. Don’t try it at home - or anywhere for that matter.
It creates way more tension and pain if we try to smash or pry muscles open beyond where they are ready to naturally stretch.
The body contracts, hardens and guards.
It’s a natural protective mechanism built into our nervous system and our tissues to prevent injury.
Ironically, I have heard many times from my severe chronic pain patients, “I wish I could just cut it off - it hurts so bad.” (“It” being the painful appendage or offending problem area.)
While this is usually said sarcastically, there is some real desire to disconnect from such intense sensation. That makes total sense. (I call it a “just make it stop” approach).
What might not be as obvious is that we actually need to re-integrate and re-connect painful parts of our body (and painful experiences for that matter) with our central nervous system and brain in order to change the dysfunction and shift our pain. (I lovingly refer to this as a "heal it to feel it" or a "come home to your body" approach.)
How do we do that?
By exploring the sensations that are there and letting them guide where and how we move the tissues, joints and bones.
Gently softening, breath by breath.
Creating little movements, which become larger over time.
While listening to how the body responds.
Trusting in the wisdom of our sensations that tell us when it is too much and when we should back off.
Telling us when to lean in for more.
Working with the body and all of our sensations is so much more integrated and nuanced.
It relies on building a relationship with ourselves - a relationship built on trust.
Learning how to honor our truth, find our edges and speak up for what we are not comfortable with.
While it may seem like a simple enough act to express a physical or emotional boundary, it is actually quite profound.
Especially if our boundaries were not respected in the past or in our childhood, we may have a harder time honoring boundaries ourselves or feeling like others will respect them.
And yet, learning how to listen and truly honor ourselves and each other is at the heart of so much healing.
I am 100% here for it.
And that patient, over the course of 3 treatments, in less than 2 weeks, their pain was almost completely gone. Their jaw was near full range of motion and they absolutely LOVED acupuncture.
Know what's even better?
This person really enjoyed doing the work! They had so much fun receiving acupuncture.
They immediately got how freaking cool acupuncture is!
How mind blowing it is to feel a needle as thin as a hair activate a specific nerve and send radiating sensation along that nerve pathway.
"Woooooah!" They would exclaim after a needle went it. " That's so cool!" In true first timer teenage awe and amusement. “I can totally feel it, like, exactly where you said I would feel it! That’s amazing!”