Archive for February, 2010

Stretching for every day muscle and joint health

Stretching is an important activity that helps to elongate the fibres of our muscles which in turn can prevent the fibres and other soft tissue structures surrounding them from dehydrating and stiffening up which would ultimately affect that muscles flexibility. Over the long term, stiffening up and over contracting of the fibres within a muscle can impede the flow of fresh blood and cause harmful metabolic waste chemicals to get trapped in the muscle tissues, this causes the stiffness and pain we feel as the end result.

Athletes and people who regularly do sporting, aerobic or body movement training activities all recognize the necessity and beneficial effects of stretching, thus they build in periods of stretching into their training schedules in order to accommodate this need.

Ballistic stretching is a generic name that I’m giving to any kind of stretching which involves repetitions in quick-fire succession and usually involves a lot of exertful force going past the comfortable range of movement. Ballistic therefore isn’t what the rest of this article is about. What the rest of this article is about and what has much higher therapeutic value in a rehabilitation or remedial context is the idea of focused stretching. Focused stretching is done with slowness and intent and (very importantly) involves breathing by receiving deep breaths in just before going into the stretch and breathing out slowly and fully whilst doing the stretch. If you’ve done any amount of work with a body awareness exercise system such tai-chi, qigong, palates or yoga (to name but a few) then you’ll be familiar with the idea of focused stretching.

Stretching is also a vital component of an effective remedial massage session as the fascia and filaments of muscle tissue which have already been passively worked on by the therapist will benefit from being re-aligned and stretched out properly by means of the client fully engaging the muscle that has just been worked on in active full range of movement. This is particularly important after trigger point worked has been carried out on a particular area, as there will be mis-aligned muscle fibres which will be facilitated back into a more healthy alignment by a good series of focused stretches to that muscle. The exact same thing can also be said after a session of indirect myofascial work.

From my own experience as a therapist, I would also say that there are good psychological reasons for the client to do a series of stretches after the necessary soft tissue manipulation work has been done on an area which has been an issue for the client, particularly where there has been a pain on movement or movement restriction challenge a stretch will prove to the client that things have improved! Have lost count of the number of times I’ve gently guided a client through a series of stretches and for them to be fully expecting the movement restriction or pain pattern to still be there, but instead for the situation to be improved to their surprise as they gingerly stretch out to the position where they are still expecting to fell pain or restriction. Once again, the importance of breathing into a focused stretched cannot be overemphasized enough, lots of anecdotal experiences available here once again, clients are always surprised how much further they can go when they breath out whilst going into the stretch instead of holding their breath whilst going into the stretch.

In the previous paragraph I was describing passive stretching i.e. whereby someone (a therapist in this case) assists and coordinates movement of the clients body in order to facilitate a stretch of the target muscle, this is done with client communication to indicate the comfort zone of the stretch as well the appropriate breathing taking place. It is possible for a client to come in for a session with me and for us to do nothing but passive stretching for the entire duration of an hour’s session. Active stretching on the other hand is the polar opposite category to passive stretching where the person doing the stretching does it to themselves with no actual physical assistance from anybody else around them, this is of course very useful to teach people so that they can do self stretching at home in-between session visits. A recommended series of stretching exercises is something I always give to my clients to do at home as this enhances the work we have already done during the session, helps maintain and prevent relapse and retrains the muscle physiology as well as the psyche of the individual into a new re-patterning of “this is now what’s possible” rather than unconsciously slipping back into the previous (less helpful) modus of operational possibility.

Another form of active stretching work that I like to use when appropriate in sessions with clients involves me applying an appropriate amount of pressure usually on or close to the attachment site of a muscle whilst the client very slowly and deliberately repeatedly performs an action with their body that will cause a focused gradual stretch of the whole of the muscle that we happen to be working on. This method of working is adapted from structural integration work (variously known also as postural re-alignment), which I’ve found to be very useful for clients who habitually just want to be in total control of their own bodies and find it very hard to relinquish any kind of passivity over to anything external or anyone that may be trying to assist them e.g. like going into a passive stretch.

There are many books on the subject of stretching, and no doubt if you’re already an active participant in sports, body exercise or movement therapy then you’ll probably already have all the books and other resources available at your finger tips already. If however you’re a complete beginner and need to start incorporating stretching in order to overcome the stiffness and bring back the suppleness into your daily life, something simple I highly recommend to anyone for the health benefits who isn’t already doing so, then this a great book for the lay person to dig into with good pictures, explanations and recommended stretching routines for before, during or after a particular every day activity such as using a computer, watching television, etc:

YouTube is another highly recommended resources for videos showing you how to stretch certain muscles and parts of your body, I’ve included an example selection on the YouTube video player widget which allows you to choose and play videos from a list of favorites over at my other website (ISCA Therapies) http://www.isca-therapies.co.uk

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28 February, 2010 at 21:20 2 comments

Fascia physically connects everything to everything else in your body

Myofascial and fascia released related work is a very subtle yet deeply penetrating style of soft tissue manipulation therapy, it unravels those physical knots that standard deep tissue massage is not able to effectively deal with as well as sometimes also having the effect of releasing deeply held emotional pain that can also get locked into the cell memory of the associated body tissues.  It’s a form of alternative therapy work that is rarely practiced here in the UK due to the small numbers of trained practitioners, but is a tool I find to be the most effective in such a wide variety of chronic scenarios and along with trigger point therapy I would find hard to get as effective a treatment outcome as I’m able to with my clients.

So what exactly is myofascial release?  Myo means muscle, and fascia is a commonly occurring type of connective tissue that envelops and pervades all structures within the body starting from just below the surface of skin.  Myofascia is therefore the fascia that surrounds and permeates the individual fibres of a muscle’s structure.  Fascia can be found just about everywhere under the surface of the skin, it not only envelops muscles but also nerves, blood vessels, organs, ligaments, tendons and other soft tissues in the body.  If you took away everything else in the body and just left the fascia behind you would see a 3 dimensional mesh like sculpture showing you the shape of the body complete from outside to deep within.

Due to the very much interconnected nature of fascia within your body, you may be able to appreciate how fascia related tension or restrictions in one area of the body can affect the mobility of fascia in another part of the body which might be very far apart e.g. neck and hip.  Severe restriction and bunching up of the fascia in any part of the body can result in pain or movement restriction locally in that part of the body or possibly somewhere else.  Fortunately there are maps of the main fascia connection routes that run the length of the body which have been drawn up and backed up by cadaver dissections to prove their physical correlations which help us tremendously during therapy sessions.  These myofascial train lines as they are called interestingly correlate very well with the meridian lines which have been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese acupuncture.

I attended 2 post graduate courses for qualified bodywork therapists recently collectively spanning an entire week for practitioners who have existing hands on experience of working with fascia.  The first course focused on specific myofascial techniques for pelvis, sacroiliac spine, rib cage and neck areas.  The second course looked at techniques for helping release constricted fascia surrounding the organs in the abdominal cavity, which in practice isn’t as invasive as it might sound as we were just making light (but sometimes deep yet non pain causing) contact with the surface fascia and suspensory ligaments of an organ to help free it up.  The idea being that working on the surface in turn contacts and pulls at the interconnected deeper fascia within, think of a big dust sheet or beach towel laid out flat and how pulling on one section causes a disturbance elsewhere, not forgeting that this work in all 3 dimensions so allowing movements to penetrate deep downwards too as well as side to side.

Fascia is fixotropic in nature which means that it can interchange between a solid state and a flowing liquid state according to prevailing conditions, press too hard against it and it gets tougher, but work with just the right amount of pressure against it (not too light either) and it begins to flow like a viscous fluid.  Try mixing cornflower starch and water together in a big bowl, this gives you a fixotropic substance to play around with, try and stab your fingers straight in very fast to get below the surface of the mixture as if you were trying to poke at a fast moving small object just below the surface, and then as a contrast try sinking you finger(s) in very slowly as if you were putting your fingers into a still pond trying not to make any ripples appear on the surface of that still pond.  This explanation should hopefully inform you of how specific one needs to be in order to get the fascia to unlock and release, too much or too little pressure either way and the fascia remains rigid in its pre-existing shape, but just right and the fascia begins to stretch and flow by more than just subtle amounts which both practitioner and client can detect.

Myofascial and fascial work is often the missing link when it comes to easing chronic muscular pain or soft tissue constrictions including scar tissue.  In fact, early release of scar tissue helps in preventing the severity of long term scaring as the connective tissue that was laid down during the initial scaring was done as a time is of the essence emergency slap dash way by the body, but once that emergency is over fascia release breaks down the scar tissue bit by bit and allows the body to do the repair again, this time with much more precision and craft as we are now in a non emergency repair situation.   The teachers I’ve trained with who also concurrently run their own therapy practices have been successfully using these techniques for over 9 years.  I have also had success in the time that I have been working with these techniques with clients who have completed enough sessions for their bodies to be re-educated and for the physical adaptations to be gradually taken on piecemeal as each session goes by.

As a closing thought to play us out of this particular topic, here is a video from one of the foremost proponents of fascia based bodywork therapy Tom Myers.  Tom trained with among others Dr Ida Rolf, the originator of rolfing, a deep tissue style of bodywork that re-aligns a person’s entire body posture over a series of 10 session starting from the feet and working gradually upwards with each successive session.  In this video Tom explains the concept of tensegrity and how torsioning in the myofascia of the body causes seemingly unrelated or unresolved soft tissue related pain often not diagnoseable by conventional x-ray or MRI means:

23 February, 2010 at 00:48 6 comments

Are trigger points the answer to your unresolved soft tissue pain?

Almost immediately after I had completed my initial basic training in massage, I happened to come across across a series courses for already qualified therapists such as myself, the courses were modular and taught remedial soft tissue techniques and skills to profoundly affect soft tissue pain conditions for the better in clients. This new information opened up a whole new range of clients for me whom I’d never have thought of working with before and changed the course of my practice. Trigger point therapy along with myofascial release are the joint top 2 remedial techniques that appear to have the most profound affect on clients I have worked with, especially ones who have been around the houses already to see conventional health professionals and other alternative therapists without much of a result.

Trigger points are basically a single point of very tight knots in the fibres and fascia (connective tissue) of a muscle which causes pain to be felt as result, these knots can vary in size from a pea to a grain of sand. An appropriately experienced remedial therapist will normally be able to detect these knots through palpation or touch alone, but often will also require verbal feedback from the client in order to confirm whether a sore spot is being pressed upon. Trigger points can be caused by repetitive overuse, over strain, stress, injury, accident or trauma. These knots impede the flow of fresh blood to the area where the knots are, this constriction also means that metabolic waste and toxins which are normally flushed away back into the circulatory system cannot escape so there ends up being a build up in this confined area which is what causes the pain. Trigger points may need to have pressure applied to them in order for the pain pattern to become activated or the trigger point may be in such a state that it is always actively causing the pain regardless. The muscle knots that form a trigger point site do not tend to respond to standard kneading type massage movements, they require precisely aimed static pressure, pressure which shouldn’t be too hard either as this will just make the muscle go into further contracture and hardening. I usually apply up to 12 seconds of constant static pressure on a trigger point, within that time frame the client should be experiencing levels of pain no greater than a 7 out of 10 (and much less is fine), before that time is up I would expect the client to perceive a change in the quality of pain, either getting less or changing say from a sharp pain to dull ache and this would be a sign for me to cease pressing. I could also choose to follow the movement of the tissues as they begin to ease and release, so combining a myofascial release technique (more on myofasical release in an upcoming article).

The most distinctive attribute of most trigger points is their ability to refer pain, so that pain appears to be experienced at a remote and apparently unrelated location to that of where the trigger point actually physically is. Not only are most trigger points able to set-up pain referral conditions, but all these pain referral patterns have been proved by research to be consistently reproducible and predictable. Books and charts have therefore been produced showing typical trigger point locations on a diagram of a muscle along with the expected pain referral pattern(s).

There has been plenty of scientific and medical research conducted into the efficacy of trigger points, but despite this it is still not part of any of the qualifying training that a conventional medical doctor would go through, so therefore most would be ignorant of this phenomenon. Dr Janet Travell who was also president John F Kennedy’s personal physician, was one of the main pioneering figures behind research into the theory and practical implications of trigger points.

Here are so common examples:

Reoccurring headaches where the pain is usually felt in the same predictable areas on the skull every time are usually caused by trigger points in the muscles either side on the side of the neck.

Sciatica and the characteristic shooting pains down the back of leg is often caused by trigger points in the gluteal region muscles and the resulting nerve entrapment that occurs of the sciatic nerve (usually the piriformis muscle deep in the mid region of the buttocks).  Can also cause lower back pain issues.

Shin splints are usually usually caused by trigger points in the (tibalis anterior) muscle on the outside front part of the lower leg just a few inches below the knee.

Tingling or numbness sensations in the fingers often accompanied by RSI (repetitive strain injury), carpel tunnel or thoracic outlet syndrome type symptoms are usually caused by nerve fibres (of the brachial nerve plexus) being entrapped by tight muscles containing trigger points, namely the muscles at the base of the neck (scalenes) and the muscles in the chest area either side on the front of the rib cage just a bit below the collar bone (pectoralis minor).

This website I came across whilst researching this article gives an excellent extract from a book about trigger points, but provides an even fuller commentary than here if you are interested in reading more, so I’d point you there for further reading as it’s really very good and saves me from trying to re-invent the wheel here so to speak:

http://saveyourself.ca/tutorials/trigger-points.php

And to see pictorial diagrams and a very comprehensive listing of pain related symptoms that can be related to trigger points in a certain muscle, have a look at this highly informative website:

http://www.triggerpoints.net

Here are 2 books that I use myself during client consultation sessions and come highly recommended as well if you are interested in looking into self treatment (click on the images for more details):

Trigger Point Therapy for Myofascial Pain – Fernando & Fernando:

The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook – Davis & Davis:

Thera cane: an essential self treatment tool (comes with instructions)

14 February, 2010 at 01:27 10 comments

Soft tissue pain: are you in the 40% group?

A study into the prevalence of significant physical aches, pain and discomfort among the general population showed that…

60% are relatively “pain free” on a day to day basis;
30% experience some kind of accute or regional / local pain;
10% suffer with some degree of widespread distributed pain everyday.

Therefore 40% of the general population experiences some kind of on-going physical pain on-going in their bodies.

Within that 40% group, between 70% – 80% of pain has been found to be soft tissue related in nature.  Soft tissue includes the muscles, tendons, ligaments and all pervading connective tissues (known as the “fascia”) of the body.

Massage therapists who have had specalist (usually extended) training in remedial massage and soft tissue manipuation techniques are particuarly well placed to provide effective assistance in the addressing or easing of soft tissue pain.  Suitably qualified therapists will usually advertise their skills by using any one of the following modality descriptions in order to differentiate themselves from those who are just offering non-remedial general relaxation massage or spa type treatments: remedial massage, remedial bodywork, sports massage, soft tissue manipulation, soft tissue therapy, myofascial release, fascial bodywork, structural bodywork, structural integration, Rolfing, neuromuscular therapy, neuromuscular technique, neuromusuclar massage, deep tissue massage, trigger point therapy, medical massage and clinical massage.  Also related are the modalities of visceral manipulation, craniosacral therapy and physical therapy.

This type of therapy involes various types of postural, visual and functional assessment procedures which help the therapist identify the issue.  The work is often concentrated on a particular area with precision focus for an extended amount of time involving interactive feedback with the client, whilst other areas of the body which may seem unrelated to the presenting issue can also be worked on in the same session or in future sessions.  Finally the client is given useful exercises to do in-between visits in order to maintain, supplement and enhance the effectiveness of the work done durinig each session.

The video below is aimed at therapists but still will be very much of interest to a lay person such as maybe yourself who may be looking for a proven alternative or complementary approach to relieving their soft tissue related pain, it expalins the physiological mechanism of pain and how remedial massage modalities can help:

Over the next few days, I’ll be publishing a series of articles defining some of the soft tissue modalities and techniques (mentioned above) that I use in my own clinical massage clinic here in Exeter (UK) and how in practical terms they have worked successfully on real world clients.

12 February, 2010 at 00:30 Leave a comment

The Eyebody Retreat 2010 in Detail

In this article (which has turned out to be a much longer write up than I had initially anticipated, but in some ways has ended up being a replacement for the day-by-day diary entries I intended to make whilst out there but never did), I’ll be giving a overview of my experiences at the 3 week long “Eyebody” workshop retreat, as introduced in my previous posting on this site.

What is Eyebody?

The Eyebody system is a method of natural eye sight improvement devised by Peter Grunwald, it is a system which continues to evolve as Peter adds refinements discovered through his own research and the evidence that continues showing up in the thousands of clients that he has personally worked with over the years. Peter has rid himself of significant myopia (short sight) and astigmatism and totally dispensed with the need to wear increasingly stronger and stronger prescription glasses after 27 years of doing so since childhood. The Eyebody method is eclectic synthesis of the best of the best material which Peter has come across on his own natural eye sight improvement journey starting from his qualifying training to become an Alexander Technique teacher, through to his studies with vision improvement teacher Janet Goodrich whose work has been informed and influenced her own studying of Bates Method and Reichian therapy approaches. The unique underpinning of Peter’s methods though has been his discovery that each part of the visual system is directly related to an anatomical region elsewhere in the body, so tension or strain in one part of the visual system can be directly correlated with tension in its related counterpart elsewhere on the body. Each anatomical part in the visual system as well as being associated with a distinct function relating to vision but also been correlated to a particular quality of psyche according to Peter’s own on-going research. With experiential training and practice, the Eyebody student is able to bring awareness and consciousness to any part of the visual in order to gradually facilitate favourable change. The definition of the visual system as used throughout this discussion encompasses the entire visual path way from the auric field surrounding the physical body, the structures constituting the physical eye ball, optic nerve, through the thalamus, hypothalamus and visual cortex areas in the brain. The visual cortex is further subdivided into lower and upper visual cortices respectively in the Eyebody system as they have been identified as performing quite distinct functions. The perception of clear sight and 3 dimensional depth is ultimately formed at the final processing stage of the lightwave’s journey in the upper visual cortex, the physical state and physical condition of the proceeding components of the eye only account for about 10% of clear sight. The inherent tendency of a person’s upper visual cortex towards energetic over contraction or over extension acts one of the central axis towards determining what type of work a student needs to focus their attention toward, this contraction or extension is often found mirrored in corresponding body posture habits as well as psychological preferences. It is therefore possible to intervene and interrupt old unconscious habitual patterns within this feedback loop and take steps towards beneficially affecting the physical structures, as more and more consciousness is able to be awoken at the inner level of our being, so the outer i.e. physical world follows as it is merely a reflection of the inner anyway.

Click here to buy this book from amazon.co.uk

I’m sure they’ll be many questions in your mind about how the Eyebody system works, a much fuller explanation than I can do here without writing book already exists in Peter Grunwald’s own Eyebody book, and ultimately by attending a workshop or private session to go through the necessary experiential process for yourself, but I am happy to answer any questions that you may have that I can answer from my personal experience and perception if you leave me a note in the comments section of this post.

The Retreat Itself…

I’ll now go on to describe the format of the 3 week long retreat experience.

The first week of the retreat takes place within the peaceful countryside surroundings of the Mana Retreat Centre on the Coromandel coast, whilst the remaining 2 weeks are spent in the Herne Bay city suburb of Auckland. If 3 weeks is too much of a time commitment, students can alternatively choose to participate for a 1 week time frame but merely booking themselves on to the Coromandel portion of the workshop.

Mana Retreat Centre

The Mana retreat centre itself is set amongst the native bush and mountains of the Coromandel peninsula coast. Among the many spectacular views available everywhere you go on site is the view from the main building of the harbour basin area where a birds eye view the water can be observed filling up and emptying out as the tides cycle throughout the day.

Apart from the stunning natural surroundings, the other feature at Mana which is perhaps almost equally enthusiastically praised by anyone who has stayed there is the food, it is quite simply the best vegetarian (or non vegetarian) food I’ve ever had to date anywhere, this delight is reignited consistently every meal time without failure! Given the choice I’d come back to eat here every time over going to the most expensive restaurant in town as I’m not convinced that they could do any better! There is an organic vegetable garden on site where produce can be freshly harvested for the meals. Approximately 40% of the food produce items in the meals at Mana are either grown on site or sourced locally from nearby farms, all organic of course. So, I’m not actually sure which has the greater contributing factor towards the divine tastiness of the meals, whether it’s the produce or the love and attention put into all the dishes which are all totally hand prepared from scratch. I’ve had meals prepared with fresh local organic produce before, yet nothing I’d experienced before or since seems to compare with the freshness and vibrancy of taste of the meals at Mana. There is a head chef with a band of volunteers helping out in the kitchen. The volunteers basically help out with all cooking, cleaning, laundry, horticultural and any other day to day general maintenance duties at the retreat centre in return for their sleeping accommodation under an international volunteering agreement scheme in New Zealand (and other parts of the world) called WWOFing (WWOOF stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms), being a WWOFFee is a fantastic idea for backpackers who are in particular wanting to spend time at various locations around a country learning hands on about the practical skills in organic farming and sustainable living.

Accommodation at Mana is either dormitory style, or double and single rooms. The main accommodation blocks are situated at a slightly elevated level just across the courtyard from the main building, or there are private hut type rooms the size of small bedroom with patio door entrances nestled right in amongst the trees in the bush area a bit less than 10 minutes walk away from the main building. Camping is also possible.

There is also free internet and wi-fi access at Mana if you feel the need to keep in touch with the outside world via modern communication technology.

I have to say that I could easily spend a very happy and fulfilled existence living in an environment like the Mana Retreat Centre. If my plans hadn’t required me to go back to the UK after the course, I would have gone back to Mana to do a couple of months WWOFing in order to be nourished further by living in a simple and back to basics kind of life, yet at the same time still feel like I haven’t compromised on the creature comforts that I know of from modern living. Given the choice between a 5 star hotel and Mana, I know what I’d choose!

Accommodation in Auckland

The venue for the daily workshop sessions in Auckland was the Petanque Club in the Herne Bay suburb, about 30-40 minutes walk from the CBD (Central Business District). The choice of accommodation is left up to the individual but the 2 closet places are between 15 and 10 minutes walk away from the course venue respectively, they are described below.

Brown Kiwi Backpackers’ Hostel

The Brown Kiwi is a budget backpackers’ hostel, yet as I always seem to find on my travels around New Zealand and Australia, the overall standard of such budget accommodation even in central parts of the major cities is much more than you’d expect for your money compared to the places I’ve stayed in in London for equivalent money. The décor in this hostel lends a very homely feel to it, especially in the kitchen which feels like a big family kitchen where you could imagine a big family sitting down to meals at the big picnic style bench dining table. The kitchen connects open plan to the lounge / TV room. The garden area is perhaps the most attract feature with hanging baskets, a water feature and plenty of cornered off seating areas surrounded with bedded plants. There’s a choice of dormitory style accommodation or double rooms. There’s even a very friendly resident cat who is often found loitering around in sight during meal times.

Sea Breeze Motel

The alternative choice for accommodation which was popular with the other students on the course was this motel which consisted of several self contained private flats all with bedroom spaces, bathroom, kitchen facilities and balcony.

The Retreat Itself

So now here comes a breakdown of the structure of a typical day on the retreat….

We generally had free time in the afternoons and at the weekends, therefore workshop activities would usually be in the morning and also during our time at Mana there were related pre-arranged activities in the evenings as well.

First Day

The first day began on New Year’s Day after lunch. This was a chance formal chance for everyone to get initially acquainted with each other as well as for us to begin to get acquainted with the Eyebody ethos and practices that we would be immersing deeper into as the days went on. Peter would in turn assess the state of our visual pathways in a way which was became trade mark, by gently placing one hand over the area of the back of the skull, from there he could assess the energetic responses as well as the detectable physical responses in that area to what we were doing and how we were using our visual pathways. Whether we were under or over focusing our attention in specific parts of the visual path, and whether we were in overall presence or in any way detached from the full potential of experiencing the here and now. We were also given the chance to do the palpation on the back of Peter’s head to see if we could detect differences as he did or used certain parts of his visual system in a particular way, and I can confirm that differences could be detected by our hands, although obviously Peter being the one who has formally trained and been doing this work for years was able to interpret a lot more layers in the feedback than what we were able to.

Morning Meditation

Peter guides and leads us through a meditation which starts at 7:40 each morning. The first half is guided, where we are introduced to the intended focus for the mediation and then are guided through our practice of bringing awareness and focus into various parts of the visual system, along with a constant reminder to remain present by committing to our intent for presence. During the remaining half we were in silence in order to focus and work on the set intent for that morning’s meditation on our own. In fact, setting intentions and visioning (or visualizing) the individual qualities of the desired outcome was a practice we continued to be mindful of throughout each day’s activities. Yes, this retreat could be viewed as practical and experiential awareness and consciousness training without the necessity to subscribe yourself into a spiritual belief system if you don’t want to. If you happen to be put off by such things don’t worry this work come across as all very grounded.

Breakfast

Whilst at Mana we would then proceed to have breakfast together. During our time in Auckland as we were not staying at the same places, we would have breakfast at our own respective accommodation venues before convening at the course venue for the morning meditation.

Sunning & Palming

A couple of rounds of alternation between sunning and palming. Sunning involves facing the direction of the sun with eye lids closed and attention being focused on the retina with the intention upon opening up our panoramic vision and waking up all 14 layers of photo receptors including the ones at the edges which are often under stimulated in most us. Palming involves cupping the palms of one’s hands over our closed eye lids with attention being focused to the cornea, lens and associated front portion of the eyeball with the intention of getting it to release forward along with the support of the supporting structures behind. 3 or so alternation are done.

Vision Dance

A movement exercise sequence which looks not unlike a series of tai-chi moves to the uninitiated onlooker, but is in fact a native American dance which has been adapted to incorporate vision related awareness or awareness of particular aspects within the visual system that you focus attention on simultaneously as you perform the physical bodily movements of the dance sequence. We are also lead with a verbal commentary which is going on at the same time with instructions to do certain things with or to our visual system, so as you can imagine this is a big coordination exercise, coordinating your eyes, brain and body all at the same time.

Ball Games

Standing in a circle in small group throwing soft tennis sized balls at each other. This exercise is about observing and being mindful of habits that can impede you from catching a ball efficiently as well as throwing the ball and making sure your designated partner can catch it more easily. Certain psychological patterns are observable and brought to our attention, these are mirrors of what is going on in our visual system when we are seeing or attempting to see. Another added twist to this exercise is that there would also be 1 person walking around the outer perimeter of the circle who would not be catching or throwing the balls, but instead would be collecting the dropped balls and handing them back to the players from the side or from behind them, So, it was possible that we could receive a replacement ball for the one that we had just dropped if the assistant was close by us, again this was something else we had to be aware of in order to make efficient and effortless moment by moment decisions e.g. do we desperately scan around for the passing ball assistant, pick up every dropped ball or alternatively allowing the possibility of flow, allowing the ball to come to us and be passed on from us onwards with ease. Therefore becoming aware, interrupting and replacing these previously unconscious patterns is what this game and practically all the other activities are designed to do. Being aware of alternatives and the possibility that the energy of your thoughts and intentions can coordinate the creation or perception of your physical reality. If you are familiar with the work of the Alexander Technique, then I guess that this is the “inhibition” influence from that genre of work.

Interviews

This is a psychotherapeutic technique where the person who is to undergo the so called interview process, the interviewee, dons a blindfold and is subsequently led around by an facilitating interview partner or sometime even 2 partners who cooperatively interview the interviewee. The idea of this interview process is to help the interviewee discover what physical or psychological issues or qualities are present within a particular structure or part of their visual system that might be causing it to behave in the way that it has been identified to be behaving in. Although at first, it may seem like that as the interviewee that you perhaps won’t have a clue as to way what to say, or are making things up with your imagination, you’ll find that (in my experience as well as those around me) as you do more and become more experienced that what comes out of these sessions does have value and bearing. The interviewer’s job is merely to facilitate the process of discovery rather than directing it, suggestions can be made for release or transmutation if the interviewee has indicated and given permission to do so. This technique reminds of the therapeutic dialogging techniques that will be familiar to those (like myself) who have trained in Upledger Craniosacral Therapy and Somato Emotional Release work, except that in this instance the work is done actively walking rather than lying down on a massage table. As someone who also has experience of the later modus from both sides of the fence as both therapist and patient so to speak, I can report that it certainly feels quite a bit different, perhaps it has to do with the walking as a way of keeping the interviewee present. Also having done this process so many times during the 3 week duration of the workshop, my eyes are now able to adjust instantly when going from the darkness behind the blindfold and back into bright daytime lighting conditions, another useful side effect of this process or perhaps it was a double purpose and by intentional design.

Lecture, Discussion and Q/A

As mentioned on the first we were given an introductory talk so that we could familiarize and orient ourselves sufficiently with essential basic anatomy of the eye and the functional parts of visual system as identified by the Eyebody system. These sessions continued throughout the course of the 3 weeks and were very interactive so we could pose questions and get answers to any specific questions we had relating to the lecture material presented or relating to our particular eye condition. The initial lecture sessions are intended to give students enough of an overview to be able to conduct the initial interviews. Further lecture and Q/A sessions are interspersed during the remainder of the 3 weeks so that a deeper understanding is built up just as the interviews delve deeper as appreciation deepens relating to the workings of one’s own eye.

Applications

Applying the Eyebody vision principles that we have learnt to practical everyday situations from reading, using a computer, walking downstairs in bright sunlight, running to playing a musical instrument. The list could go on!  There were implications and lessons to be learnt for all as we would begin each application by observing a person doing it in their natural state so to speak, discussion would then ensue about what we noticed and then suggestions made as to how the task could be performed with a lot more ease and engagement, and hence efficiency and increase proficiency. At the opposite end when we over strain or under focus ourselves through effort and inefficiency when we don’t engage our mental vision (visualization) first, but when we do, we allow eyes and then our physical body (posture) to slot in and follow with ease.

Free Time

There was plenty of free time during the afternoons after lunch. This was always the perfect opportunity to explore the peaceful and beautiful native bush walks around the Mana sizeable site. In Auckland, we were given interview topics to explore with a partner as homework, but other than that afternoons were our own free time also.

Private Lessons

This is an opportunity to have extended 1-on-1 time with Peter so that specifically tailored experiential and practical work can be done in order to verify and integrate the learning and awareness processes involved in your particular vision improvement training journey. These sessions often incorporate much hands on Alexander Technique style awareness training which has been adapted to the Eyebody model of eye, brain and body interaction.

Evening Activities

Whilst we were at Mana, we would often continue the workshop activities including the Q/A sessions and interview on into the evening when reconvening after the evening meal, but some highlights of the evening activities which didn’t quite fit into the aforementioned categories included the following…

Night Visioning

We were advised to bring some warm clothing with us as we were to be going on an evening walk, but apart from those who had attended the retreat in previous years, non of us knew or suspected that the evening walk would turn out to be much longer than what we had initially expected. As we had not yet had our evening meal, the assumption in my own mind at least would be that we would return in time for our evening meal in the dinning room as usual. The 20 minute or so walk took us up to the mountain to The Sanctuary, a chapel, where we were surprised by having the evening meal bought all the up there and served for us whilst we sat and ate on the grassy slopes around the building as the began to set. We spent some time inside the The Sanctuary being led in acapella type singing session whilst appreciating the effects and feedback from the ethereal acoustics inside. By the time the vocal exercising activities were all over we had a serving of dessert in the rapidly dimming light of the nearly finished sunset, and then for the walk back without the aid of torches or any other form of artificial light. It was a very starry night, not a cloud in sight, but that probably didn’t really make much of a difference as we set off into the canopy under the trees heading down hill crossing the occasional narrow wooden plank style foot bridge which all lacked any kind of railing as we went. Slipping and sliding on on the gravel was also mandatory as the odd misplaced footing was inevitable due to the total lack of light! This was our night vision training exercise! Our group leader Peter was of course leading the expedition from the front whilst the rest of us formed a hand in hand single file chain. For a lot of people trust as well as poor night vision was an issue, for me neither of the aforementioned although it was certainly dark enough during most of the decent that I was relying a lot on kinaesthetic feedback through my feet and from the hand that was resting on the shoulder of the person in front.

Performance Revue!

On the penultimate night at Mana we were tasked with putting together a revue show demonstrating our talents to envision and work together to produce a night’s entertainment programme. We had only hours to put this together as we were advised our mission just before the afternoon recess so that planning and rehearsals could take place during the free time in the afternoon. A variety of largely improvised dance, music, sketch and audience participation numbers were seemingly conjured up from what was a group of folks who had more in the way of artistic leanings than is the average in the general population, in my opinion. I elected to be compere for the night, but one day I’ll be back doing a musical performance spot, once (hobby) time permits for me to indulge in some musical training.

Beach Bar-B

The end of the first week’s timetabled activities in Auckland culminated with a very nice “pot luck” (i.e. bring your own food contributions to share) beach BBQ in the evening, as we crossed over to the north shore and set-up our space on Cheltenham beach in time to watch the colourful sunset gradually sink down, along with the distinct volcanic shaped peak of the island just across the bay outlining the horizon in line of sight across the waters from where we were.

An Endless Feast

For the penultimate night of our time together we ended up at a very nice Japanese restaurant in the Ponsonby area of Auckland. After dividing ourselves into strict vegetarians, vegetarians who ate fish, and meat eaters (i.e. those who eat everything) beforehand in order to give the restaurant our catering preferences ahead of time, upon arrival we all sat down together at the respective table representing our particular grouped dietary preferences to a very pleasant leisurely meal which seemed like an endless feast of courses interspersed with sufficient pauses between each to allow us to disperse in order to swap seats and mingle during the interval in order to find and talk to a different neighbour.

Ch-Ch Changes

An Overview of Where I’m Coming From – Even though I was the participant who had by far the worst sight at the workshop, in a way I guess I was also the one with a distinct advantage in that I don’t wear glasses or contact lenses. I haven’t worn glasses or contact lenses since the age of 13 because they have just never made a significant difference or perform any kind of helpful improvement to my sight, in fact I was always able to read smaller sized print in books at school without my glasses than with which was the main reason for choosing to get rid of them altogether. The glasses (or contact lenses) didn’t appreciatively do much for my distance vision either, without glasses I was able to read down to the second row from the top of letters on the eye chart and possibly could see down to the third row from the top with glasses. Putting on glasses or contact lenses has the effect of making thing slightly clearer BUT everything appears to move further away and thus gets smaller, so I’d much rather have it big and a bit blurred as this is more useful to me! The very experienced consultant ophthalmologist whom I was fortunate enough to be assigned to for a number of years agreed with my decision and said that given the personal experiences he had had with patients with similar eye sight conditions to mine, it was an understandable decision. During the entire duration of the workshop, everyone was encouraged to dispense with their glasses. So for me, no change here as glasses have never been necessary or rather should I say I’ve yet to come across benefits from wearing them! Glasses can end up doing more harm then good as over the long term they encourage the eye to become more and more dependent upon them like a crutch if you will. As the natural dynamic flexibility of certain structures within the eye start to deteriorate at a faster rate due to in effect not being exercised to their fullest capacity, thus requiring you to get increasingly stronger prescription lenses over the time.

So, here are some of the changes and distinctions I noted in my own eye sight during the 3 weeks…

Peripheral Vision – It was almost as if I had some kind of (undiagnosed) tunnel vision before that I wasn’t aware of beforehand, but developing one’s so called panoramic vision as it is referred to in Eyebody terms is part of the work for most people, so yes I am able to see and notice more of what’s going on in the periphery of my vision. I am now also able to have awareness things going on in my periphery whilst simultaneously concentrating on looking at something in my central line of sight, for exampling such as reading text whilst typing on a computer and noticing what is going on in the room around me, before it felt like I was only able to focus on whatever was in the central part of my vision and felt that I would get confused if I to try noticing anything such as movement going on in the periphery. Being simultaneously aware of the periphery also seems to help with avoiding going into tension patterns in the body such as neck or shoulder tension even if I’m still leaning forward to do certain things like using a computer, as the distance part of my vision is still relatively poor at present, I am starting from a place of very high myopia but have moved a couple of inches further back from the computer screen, so that’s a start!

Light sensitivity – I started off being very light sensitive at the start of the retreat. I am normally very challenged in bright sunlight or bright white cloudy sky type conditions, being almost dazzled or close to being blinded in any kind of bright light conditions. Night time and dim light conditions has therefore always been my preference, but as a result of the on-going work I did on my retina at the retreat, I transitioned from not being able to at first open my eyelids fully to the bright outdoor New Zealand sun, this was something that I’ve barely been physically able to do due to the eyelids being possessed by a quivering resistance to opening and favouring being in squint for the apparent comfort it brought, no matter how hard I tried to concentrate on physically to keep the eye lids open they would put up a fight back. So now that I am able to keep my eyelids wide open in all light conditions, the next stage of the evolution is to be able to start seeing or noticing shapes and colours at the very least, this also started to become possible for me and improved noticeably by the end of the 3 weeks. During exposure to extreme bright sunlight, I am snow able to to see more than I could in terms of shapes and colours albeit with little in the way of meaningful detail, but by comparison I’m unlikely to be met by equivalent extremes in sunlight conditions back here in the UK, so the New Zealand summer sun was as good an extreme training environment as any in order prepare one for more comparatively tame scenarios in the future.

3-Dimensional and Depth Perception – During the last day at Mana I noticed that my perception of depth and especially of 3D in apparently flat places, for example, I noticed the title text on the spine of a book which really appeared to be literally coming out towards me such was the depth (illusion) being perceived by my eye, the text was in a 3D effect type font but it was not as if it was embossed, it just but looked as if it could have been.

During my turn to have guidance during an application session I elected to do an application to help me walk down stairs in bright sunlight. Right there in the space of a couple of seconds I was able to start to see more depth delineating the stairs in front of me, but not only that, I was not able to physically look any further towards the ground with my eyeballs, so instead would have to lower my head down at a more appropriate angle which would enable me to see the edge of each step more clearly but would ultimately mean that I would have no line sight and cut off my awareness of anything in the periphery other than the next couple of steps in front of me, the horizon and a good couple of degrees below that was non existent. Well, having my head corrected into a more upright position yet still slightly looking down at a general angle facing the stairs, whilst bringing awareness into my the upper visual cortex area at the back of the head and use that for directing the eyeballs and awareness in order to widen my peripheral vision perception. Instead now, I found that I was suddenly able to move and look much further towards the ground with my eyeballs than I had ever previously been able to do, it was if the range of physical movement had increased. This is just one example of many where I have not been able to do something until I had been instructed on a relatively simple change to an element of my awareness that suddenly opens the door to a shift happening.

Nystagmus – Apparently, according to an acquaintance who knows me from a weekly qigong class that I go to here in Exeter, my eyes seemed a lot more centred and steady to her compared to before I went away, she noticed that my eyes were fluttering about less and I seemed to be looking and focusing a lot better. Nystagamus is an involuntary movement of the eyes, in extreme cases the eyes appear to flicker and randomly wonder about although the person isn’t necessarily conscious nor usually has any kind of concious control over this. My Nystagmus although diagnosed as very mild to the extent that I have never able to notice anything, not even when I stood in front of a mirror to try and observe it. All the same, was interesting to have someone who wasn’t involved in the retreat itself notice this particular change.

Thanks

I’d like to take this opportunity to express warmth and appreciation to everyone whom I met on the workshop. I wish you continued growth, evolution, discovery, happiness and success. Speak soon! See you at Mana in 2011?

8 February, 2010 at 13:02 3 comments


Henry Tang – Therapeutic & Advanced Clinical Massage Practitioner (Crows Nest, Sydney, Australia)

Click image above to visit Spaces of Possibilities Wellness Centre, Crows Nest, Sydney, Australia.

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