Saturday, August 12, 2006

Science catches up

Well, not really.

I get a lot of clients who suffer from migraines. One of my instructors, an ex-Marine who was studying acupuncture, told us, "Ice on the feet. Ice on the feet for migraines." His theory was that sticking a migraine sufferer's feet in a bucket of ice water caused blood to rush down to warm them up, thus relieving vascular dilation in the head.

I've never actually tried it, but when my clients tell me they're starting a headache, I do go to their feet, with positive results. When I worked on Wall Street, the stupid chiropractor employing me spouted a lot of bile about massage therapists who worked on people's feet--"We're not podiatrists," he said. When the Russian girl came in, pale and terrified from the onset of one of her regular migraines, I went to her feet, anyway. After two minutes she said, "My headache is already gone."

Now the New York Times has this to say about migraines:
Though long believed to be primary vascular headaches, the result of constriction then expansion of blood vessels in the head, migraines are now recognized to stem from neural changes in the brain and the release of neuroinflammatory peptides that in turn constrict blood vessels. The headache often begins before these vessels dilate. The inflammatory peptides sensitize nerve fibers that then respond to innocuous stimuli, like blood vessel pulses, causing the pain of migraine.

...More common causes include stress (positive or negative), weather changes, estrogen withdrawal, fatigue and sleep disturbances (hence, perhaps, the association with alcohol, which can disrupt sleep), as well as overuse of over-the-counter pain medications.
In other words, they're psychosomatic.

"Psychosomatic" is a terribly misunderstood word. It does not mean "It's all in your head;" it just means it starts in your head. The mind is an astonishing thing; our thoughts quite literally affect our bodies. Thoughts stimulate the release of chemicals, like hormones and neurotransmitters, which then do their dirty work and lay us low.

The vast majority of the bodywork I do is intuitive, simple, and empirical. I don't give a name to what I'm doing; I just try things out and observe the results. What I have observed, in my clients with migraines, is that many of them don't seem to be grounded. They don't count on the earth to hold them up; they feel responsible for keeping everything in orbit. They also tend to be fond of generating ideas--they're intuitive, imaginative, and ambitious.

When I put my hands on someone, I can sometimes sense when their thoughts are running riot, just by feeling a subtle sort of buzzing sensation in my fingers when I'm touching their heads. I've tested this out by working on close friends who are ready and willing to give me feedback; once I was working on a friend who was in crisis, and her head would not stop buzzing. I put my hands on the soles of her feet, and 'grounded.' When I went back to her head, the buzzing seemed to have calmed down, and I finished the session in the usual way.

Later, without my asking, she volunteered the information: "When you touched my feet, I felt a sucking sensation, and I stopped obsessing and felt peaceful."

I had another regular client who suffered from frequent migraines; otherwise, he said, he was fine. The first time I worked on him, I discovered a massive keloid scar on his ankle. I asked him about it; "oh, yeah, I tore off my Achilles," he said. Seemingly he'd sort of forgotten. "So, it's no wonder you don't want to feel your feet," I told him. When I work on him regularly, his migraines seem to cease; when I don't, they come back. He doesn't seem to notice the connection until I ask him about it, though.

Oftentimes it's the simplest notions which screw us up. The idea that "the earth is holding us up" would seem to be a no-brainer, but it's shocking how many people do not believe this, on a subconscious level. I once worked on a woman who got up at 5 AM to run six miles, every day; then she did Buddhist chanting for two hours. She was one of the most psychologically messed-up people I've ever known. When I started on her, her body was knotted so bizarrely that she didn't have a muscle configuration that I recognized; I wondered if she was, in fact, an alien. I told her, "Sophia, the ground is holding you up."

She replied, "REALLY?" in a tone of genuine, non-sarcastic incredulity. She honestly did not believe it was true.

Recently I read an interview in the Sun with Marion Woodman, who says,

"All my life God has spoken to me through illness. My pattern is to go along and have a marvelous time until all of a sudden I'm pulled down by some malady. That's where the real psychological gravity is for me. Throughout my career I've seen people have similar experiences; not paying attention to their bodies and getting sick, sometimes even dying prematurely, or, at the very least, not living their lives as fully as they want. I've found that talk therapy is not the best way to help these people. In many instances, it is of little help at all. I decided early on that the body must somehow be involved in one's psychological healing, because the body can hold onto memories and images that are otherwise inaccessible. You can't get to them simply by talking about them."
I suspect this may be particularly true with highly intelligent people; they can use their minds to very effectively avoid dealing with problems, by rationalizing them away. Their bodies are the ones screaming at them, "That's all very well, but I'm going to COLLAPSE now, until you pay attention to what I have to tell you."

The body can be ridiculously, embarrassingly literal. People get migraines, in part, because they're thinking too much.

When I first became a bodyworker, I thought it could be a sneaky way to heal people without them realizing what I was doing. I thought I could just go in there, alter their energy patterns, and make them all better without ever having to directly confront them about their self-destructive habits and ideas. I know better now; I know that this delusion of mine is called 'co-dependency,' and that people have to take responsibility for their own healing, or they'll never get anywhere.

Now I don't try to 'heal' anything at all, and I'm a lot more blunt about confronting people with their shit. I tell them, "I can work on your neck from now until the cows come home, but it won't get better until you start telling the truth." They don't get as annoyed as I used to think they might; and I don't blame them if they don't get better as fast as I think they could. It works for all of us.


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prettylady said...

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Anonymous said...

I have been enjoying your blog so far, but sorry, what you have to say about migraines is bullshit. You have obviously never had a migraine yourself.

I WISH they were psychosomatic. Then every time I get on the bus with some idiot who has drenched themselves in perfume, I can just think nice thoughts and make my pain go away.

Doesn't happen that way. It would be nice if it did. Then I wouldn't have to spend the next four hours in the ER with a needle in my arm and a chemical cocktail in my veins.

My headaches have never responded to massage, although I have benefited from it in other ways. So although I feel skeptical, I will accept that you've had clients who were helped by massage. It has not been my experience though.

If you don't want to feel compassion for people like me, don't. But have the guts to come right out and say so, instead of playing the blame-the-victim game. I hate the word victim. I do not choose to have migraines and/or do anything to facilitate them - I spend my life avoiding triggers. I don't appreciate being portrayed as some responsibility-evading victim wanna-be.

prettylady said...

I WISH they were psychosomatic. Then every time I get on the bus with some idiot who has drenched themselves in perfume, I can just think nice thoughts and make my pain go away.

Er, no. You can't. That's not what 'psychosomatic' means, and you know it.

If you don't want to feel compassion for people like me, don't. But have the guts to come right out and say so, instead of playing the blame-the-victim game.

What on earth difference does my perceived 'compassion' make to you or not? I offer observations, based on experience. You have different observations and different experience, which you are sharing, and for which I am grateful.

Blame, as I stated in my response to what I assume was your other comment, does not enter into it at all.