I discovered Essentrics® looking to alleviate chronic pain that was severely impacting my quality of life. Gardening, walking around the neighborhood, even yoga, were “iffy” for me. While the pain moves around, it’s usually somewhere in my joints. I embraced Essentrics® because it is particularly suited to alleviate joint pain. The movement is done slowly. We elongate until we can’t, stop and go a little further, which allows for greater length. The lengthening quality is made possibly by gently “pumping” the connective tissue.
Connective tissue has an elastic quality. The healthier the tissue, the more buoyant and flexible it is. Fascia likes to be gently coaxed into stretching further. As we reach and stretch, we are increasing the load on the lever (arms/legs) which builds strength. The result is long, lean, limbs with full range of motion.
We need strength and length to open up the joints. Working slowly allows us to track feeling while moving. At the first sign of pain, back off. We move through a pose several times. Each time you’re monitoring how it feels and seeing if you can relax a little more into the stretch.
We MUST maintain our strength if we want to live pain-free. We naturally back off from pain. Over time, it causes our joints to contract. We need strong muscles to gently tug against the stuck connective tissue, holding our joints together. As long as we steer clear of pain signals, the muscles will not contract. Deep breathing is indispensable toward helping to soften and relax the body. Additionally, it kicks on the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”) which kicks off the sympathetic (“fight and flight”). In this way, we are rewiring pain signals to not fire “read alert” as we heal.
Move It or Lose It
In a study on muscle atrophy and chronological aging, University of Pittsburgh researchers looked at a cross sections of muscle tissue from athletes age ranged 40 to 81 years old. Their findings rocked the medical field. The lean muscle tissue of a 74-year old triathlete was essentially equal to the lean muscle tissue of a 40-year old who trains as often. The study debunked previously accepted theories, the “common knowledge” that decline in muscle mass and strength is a natural part of aging.
The same findings were repeated with a sample population of non-athletes. Statistics show that the average person who does some exercise but is somewhat sedentary loses about 8% of their muscle mass over a decade. Whereas an active person who daily moves through their full range of motion only loses about 3% of their muscle cells. To put that in perspective, by the age of 60 the more sedentary person will have lost of up 25% of their muscle tissue compared to 8% loss in the active person.
Atrophy is a very slow process through which a healthy cell gradually shrinks until it shrivels out. As the tissues shrink, so does tens of thousands of mitochondria. It can happen to anyone at any age, from children to seniors. Immobility is the primary cause and gentle, daily movement is the healing medicine. Although atrophy can happen at any time to anyone, you see it most often among people starting to age.
Telltale signs of atrophy include:
- poor posture
- rounded back
- rigid movement
- walking slowly
- stiffness in gait
It’s All Connected
Many of the symptoms of aging – stiffness, poor posture, reduced mobility, limited range of motion – actually have their root in connective tissue problems. Keeping our tissues, or fascia, supple and resilient is critical to helping our entire body remain healthy, youthful, and vibrant as we age.
Connective tissue is a webbing that runs throughout the body, holding us together. The family is made up of:
- Ligaments – Attach bone to bone, have little to no ability to repair themselves
- Tendons – Connect muscle to bone, have minimal elasticity, heal slowly
- Cartilage – Provides frictionless surface, cushions and prevents wear on joints
- Fascia – Tissues that cover, surround, separate and join bones, muscles and organs
- Extracellular Matrix – Also knowns as “ground substance,” this is the watery gel-like matter that nourishes and permits ease of movement for muscles
The slow, dynamic, full-range movements of Essentrics™ engage, stretch, and hydrate our connective tissues as very few other programs do. That’s because connective tissue exercises should be done slowly, lovingly and continuously. Slow movements through a gentle range of motion increase lubrication of both the fascia and the joints. As the fascia is hydrated, tension within the joint releases. As always, we never move in pain. If you feel a twinge, stop, back off a notch and resume.
You Get What You Train For
We sculpt our body every day of our lives in the way that we hold them. For years and years, I was always contracting places in my body to “protect” it from pain – unknowingly making it worse. The body I am training for can squat at a moment’s notice, has a balanced gain, bounce in the step and wide range of motion.
Now that I know the role of connective tissue, I understand I need to move my body through its full range of motion every day. It’s become a part of my routine, like brushing my teeth and taking a shower. Gentle, full-body movement is what allows me to garden, take long walks and join my fellow yogis on the mat. It’s what enables me to enjoy life.
“There’s no better feeling than feeling good in your body.” When I was a Thai Yoga therapist, this was my mantra to clients. Twenty-five years later, I’ve become my own student again. I’m grateful for what I bring to the table this time around. My body is less limber, but more forgiving. It’s taking longer to alleviate pain, but the effects are longer lasting. Our bodies respond to how we treat it.
Your body has strong, regenerative powers. It wants to move and will reward you for doing so. Moving in a kindler way will improve your health more effectively than “pushing through it.” What do you want your body to do for you?