Honor Thy Body

For some of us, "Honor thy self" can be a well used phrase that we have heard many times, especially from the media, most of which promote how we should be looking after ourselves while coping with our busy lives.  And what would our interpretation of honor thy self be?  Do we think about it in terms of treating ourselves, a good work/life balance or nurturing ourselves.

During these stressful times, do we ever stop and take the time to think about what our body actually needs and requires, or the short and long term effects of our busy lives on our body.  Often our body actually informs us of what it wants, we're just not necessarily adept at listening to it properly or even giving it the time it deserves.  We listen to our children, partners and friends but seem to side step our body as we "don't have time". 

It can be so easy to 'go with the flow' and just follow all the advice that is being handed to us through the media and any other method that reaches out to us. So often we are being told what food our body requires, whether that be a high fat diet, a high protein this or a low carb that. Or what exercise would best serve us, or what will help us lose weight quickly.  It's no wonder we're feeling stressed out, tired or just plain exhausted, we simply don't know which way to turn.

But have you ever thought about the effect that stress actually has on your body?  Mostly we have an awareness of some of the effects as we feel them and often read about them, but do we ever stop and change things.

So what does happen to us?  It's known as the "fight or flight response".  This is our body's primitive, automatic inborn response that prepares the body to "fight" or "flee" from a perceived attack, harm or threat to our survival.  It was first described by Walter Cannon in the 1920's as a theory that animals react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system.  A very simple description of what happens in the body would be that chemicals such as adrenaline, noradrenalin and cortisol are released into our bloodstream.  These chemicals cause a series of very dramatic changes in our bodies: Our breathing rate increases. Blood gets directed away from our digestive system and redirected into our muscles Our pupils dilate and our sight sharpens Our awareness intensifies Our perception of pain diminishes.

So when our fight or flight system is activated, we tend to perceive everything around us as a possible threat to our environment.  The system bypasses our rational mind and moves us into "attack"mode" causing us to see everyone and everything as a possible enemy, we may overreact to the slightest comment and our thinking can become distorted. Unlike animals who have the ability to release the chemicals that surge through their bodies by simply shaking them out, we don't, or not that ever has been witnessed.  Generally, animals don't tend to carry stress around with them because of this ability to release the chemicals.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that something significant needs to happen for the fight or flight response to be activated, but it doesn't. These days it can be everything and anything, from the diary full of daily appointments to the cancelled train, from the exercise class you attend to the posture you adopt.  Without knowing it we end up in the "freeze" state and fail to move into the second stage, releasing the chemicals surging through our body.  Instead it ends up in our connective tissue and muscles. 

Exercise can be a great contributor to the Fight/Flight Response without us even realising it.  Posturecan also play a significant role, anyone who has poor posture can be at risk of increasing the adrenal response throughout their body, compressing the joints and affecting the fascial network which in turn is perceived as a threat, this then weakens the rest of the our body. Our digestive systems suffer as a result of the hormones and chemical changes and we can end up gaining weight along with other potential digestive problems.

So what can we do to help minimise the effects of stress?

An open posture can create spaces in the joints and encourage the body's ability to release its pent up stress.  With an lovely open posture, the hormone cortisol can release itself, the joints then have the opportunity to have spaces between them and this in turn will encourage a strong system of support.  We can breathe properly and fully, which then nourishes the body naturally as well as the organs it houses - who wouldn't want that.....

We can make sure we feed our bodies with wholesome nourishing foods.  Our inner body is likened to a garden that is well tended and cared for.  Gardeners spend time and immense effort nurturing their gardens and we should do the same with our digestive systems - choosing the foods that best serve us and taking time to eat and digest them.

Massage treatment will work on the connective tissue that holds the stress.  Focusing on the muscles that keep us in a flexed posture will start to bring relief to the body and that relief canrelease us into the desired open posture.  You might not realise that your posture has changed as our body has an innate ability to correct itself just by levelling our eye focus accordingly. As a Massage Therapist I see many people who have ended up with chronic muscular problems, this can then lead to skeletal issues if left untreated.  If left long enough, problems can evolve into acute situations which cause pain and discomfort and then the cycle begins again, we end up back in the "Fight or Flight" response, causing the chemical release through the body, only this time the pain doesn't diminish, it increases.

Massage can also have amazing effects on our Parasympathetic Nervous System, the system required to serve in the release of the stress hormones, slow the heart rate and generally relax the body overall.  So many people come away from this type massage feeling lighter, relaxed, calm,  soothed and generally more comfortable in their body.  The benefits of different types of massage treatment are endless, they all have immense value, you just need to decide which one would most benefit you and your body.

Of course, there are many other things, such as Pilates, Yoga or Acupuncture, that can contribute to ensuring we aren't constantly reacting with a 'Fight or Flight" Response, you just need to listen to what your body is asking for....

Honor thy Body!

By Helen Randall