From Pain to Possibility
Episode 18: Understanding Movement for Reducing Pain
Intro: You're listening to From Pain to Possibility, with Susi Hately. You’ll hear Susi’s best ideas on how to reduce or even eradicate your pain and learn how to listen to your body when it whispers so you don't have to hear it scream. And now here's your host, Susi Hately.
Susi: With this episode, I want to dig into the idea of understanding movement to reduce pain. And I want to get into it because recently I've been having yoga teachers ask me a lot of questions about muscles, like what muscle do I need to strengthen, and what muscle do I need to stretch? And I want to start this off by saying you don't have to know that. In fact, I would say that in all my years of training yoga teachers to apply movement and yoga therapeutically for their clients, that those who understood muscles less got the better results. I've also found that when I can effectively teach my clients about their movement first, before getting into muscle conversation, the faster they get better. So that's where I want this episode to dig in.
Now, someone might say, “But Susi, doesn't muscle drive movement?” Yes, it does. Muscles do drive movement. But we can go down this rabbit hole of muscle, particularly when there's not always agreement about what muscles do what. My recent episode on the psoas, where I spoke about a debate around what the actual primary function of the psoas is is a great example of that. We can find all sorts of experts who talk about core in many conflicting and competing ways. So it becomes really interesting over a glass of wine around what muscles are doing what. But how does that really serve our client? So that's why I want to dig into this idea of movement and understanding movement as an approach to really helping a client reduce their pain.
I want to first look at this from a 50,000-foot view, and in that 50,000-foot view four things need to happen for someone to reduce pain. The first is they need to have an increased level of awareness because so much of the problem is in our unawareness. If you've had a lot of short-term gain, but not long-term sustainable gain, we can often notice that there are things or biomechanical patterns that are under your awareness or in your level of unawareness, which you can't change because you're not aware of them, and so you keep working on the things you are aware of and get frustrated by what you can't change because you have no clue that it's there. So by improving the awareness of what's actually happening in your body, then you can make a better change because you become more clear on what's working and not working. And when there's that clarity, you can intervene much more efficiently and gain better connection with your body, which improves your feedback mechanisms between your brain and your tissue. There's better neuro dynamics. There's better neuromuscular communication. That's a 50,000-foot view.
Now, let me go through a sort of 10,000-foot view. So now we’re getting a little more granular. The first step of this process is that we want to help someone rest and gain relief. We need to have them experience symptom relief or they're not going to have any possibility or any hope that change is possible. We, then, want to help them retrain their movement patterns, which is part of the relief process. We want to retrain their movement pattern so they can really hone that new neuromuscular pattern, which is providing and giving them the relief so that that new muscular pattern can gain some stamina, can gain some endurance, can gain some longevity, and that will lead them into better progress and an opportunity to refine. Because what begins to happen is as you're able to feel better, as you're able to do more, then there's more for you to do. There's greater opportunities that come your way, which means that you need to keep growing the integrity, your structural integrity, so that you can continue to bear and dissipate the load that comes with more complex activities. Said another way, the better that you get, the better you need to get. So this requires us to consistently grow our awareness. Like, the job of growing awareness never ends. And this job of growing awareness in this concept that I'm teaching on this episode is about the awareness of your movement pattern.
When I'm working with a client, I make it very clear about how their mechanics, how their movement patterns, are and how they correlate to what they experience, not with what's causal, because I can't say that for sure, but I can see what's correlated. For example, when I notice that there's leg bones that are moving inefficiently in the pelvis, for example, there's a lot of correlation to back pain. When someone's shoulder blades or their arm bone is not moving well in the shoulder socket, I can say that there’s correlation between that and neck pain or carpal-tunnel issues or repetitive-strain injury. Do they cause that? No, not at all, because not everyone who has a stacked shoulder blade has carpal-tunnel syndrome. Not everyone who has poor mechanics in their hip has back pain. So I'm not going to say that they're causal, because I don't believe they are. But they can be correlated because when I can help someone improve the mechanics of their hips, when I can help them improve the mechanics of their arm bone in their shoulder socket or their shoulder blade on the rib cage, they, then, experience a reduction in the issues that brought them to see me in the first place. When that starts to happen, they have better awareness and better connection and greater clarity on what's working and not working. Their feedback mechanisms are stronger. They've got more relief. They have more control over what's going on for them. And it's that inner control. It's not a forced, held, rigid type of control.
So what begins to happen—now we're really on a granular level—is that their understanding and embodying the sensations and understanding the sensations and what they mean. So previously, when many will have come to see me, they will have said that their body is breaking down or that their sensations are really agitating and aggravating. They want to get rid of them. They want to fix them. They don't want to ever feel them again. And then as they move along the process of awareness, of clarity, of connection, of feedback, of relief, of retraining, of getting better and getting better and getting better, they begin to understand that their symptoms are signals. It's their way of their body connecting and communicating with them, and with that connection and communication, with that language, they can understand what they then need to do to intervene to not have the pain come back. So their body becomes a barometer. Their symptoms become a language that as they spend time with it, they can decode it for themselves.
You don't need to understand muscles to teach this. You do need to understand movement. You do need to understand relationships of the parts. You do need to understand compensation patterns and being able to see the whole, being able to see when someone holds their jaw when they move their leg bone, when they hold their breath when they move their arm bone. And you need to be able to teach them that they're doing that, gently bringing their awareness to their parts, to parts that they might not even want to pay attention to. But by teaching them about their movement, you help empower them to understand their body in a way that not many people teach. So rather than their body being this thing that's breaking down or getting old, because, you know, that's just what happens, it becomes this other experience entirely.
So how can you begin to take steps to apply this? The first one is when you take a look at a skeleton or you take a look at an anatomy drawing of a skeleton, whether you've got one, like an actual skeleton in your studio space, or whether you're looking at an anatomy book or looking at anatomy online, is look specifically at the shape of the joint and how does that shape dictate the way that joint is meant to move? So in what planes does it move? In what orientation does it move? And how many ranges of movement actually exist? And begin to understand how that then correlates to a person. When you look at their leg bone moving in their hip, can you get a feel of that ball-and-socket joint? Can you get a feel of the pelvis being quiet and the leg bone doing the movement? Can you see the distinction between the shoulder joint and the hip joint or the elbow joint or the wrist joints? And what does that joint design tell us about the available function?
Now with that understanding, we can then step back and just simply watch the person move, because as we know, not everybody has the exact same shape of joint that we see in an anatomy book or in a plastic skeleton. We may have no idea what that shape looks like or even if they have osteoarthritis or any other joint condition. We have no idea, in fact, if that skeleton or the surrounding ligaments are impacting the way that joint is moving or not.
So we simply watch and pay attention to the relative smoothness and efficiency of movement. How aware is your client when they move? How much ease exists in their movement? Is their movement more tense or more wired? What's that quality of the movement? Is there a phase of the movement that actually has more ease and then there's another phase of the movement that doesn't have the ease? Is there a clunking or a clicking as they go through a movement? Do they hold their jaw when they move their hips or their shoulders or move into their twist? Do they push hard? Do they shove past symptoms? Do they simply just want a stretch? Are they getting seduced in that experience of a stretch? Can they breathe? Can they move in a range of motion that does not increase their pain? When you can come at the experience from what is actually happening from a movement perspective, what parts are moving in relationship to what parts, you can have an agreement with your client about what's actually going on because you both can actually see it happen.
This is one of the great benefits from Zoom is before when I was teaching pre-COVID and I'd be working with people one to one inside of my studio space, in the same space, I would sometimes bring out their camera or a mirror. But now with the computer screen, someone can easily look at the computer and actually see their movement the way that I'm seeing it. And they can say, “Oh, yeah. Look. There's my rib cage doing that movement thing again. Oh yeah, I can totally see my jaw clenching.” And then because there is that acceptance of awareness, then they start to notice that much more about what's going on, and that bubbles over into the rest of their life.
So I encourage you, particularly if you're a yoga teacher who's listening to this and you've got nervousness about not knowing muscles, not knowing anatomy, step back and simply look at the movement. Take in as much of the person that you're seeing and see what is moving, that should be. Notice what else is being involved in a movement that ought not to be. And can you help your client become that much more efficient in their movement? And then see what happens.
Now, stay tuned. There will be an upcoming episode on understanding muscles, but do take the time to explore and dig into this movement. And as I said earlier, the teachers that I've trained who really dug in and experienced movement and taught themselves to see the movement, they're the ones who consistently, consistently, get better and better and better results than any of their colleagues. Have a great, great, great time exploring that.
Now, if you want to dig into these concepts a little bit further about utilizing movement, yoga, breath, stillness, as it relates to helping people out of pain, there are two upcoming opportunities for you. The first one is solving your pain puzzle. The second one is the Therapeutic Yoga Intensive. And you can go directly to www.therapeuticyogaintensive.com or www.functionalsynergy.com/solving-the-pain-puzzle-2020 for more information.
Have a great time exploring.