A Perfect Run: Mindful Breathing Release

ImageEver since I can remember I’ve had right hip flexor/groin pain, in which I thought was a result of a tight hip flexor or iliopsoas muscle – and, up until this point every massage and physical therapist had told me the same. You can ask any of my running partners the past five or so years and they would all be able to identify my physical weakness, because it has been such a nagging, acute pain since my early running days. I figured that growing up playing tennis (that stop-and-go motion) were what caused me to have “bad” hips. Also, seeing my grandma go through hip surgery, well, I figured my destiny was hereditary and I, too, would have a hip replacement one day.  In seeing over 20 massage therapists (MT) and 6+ physical therapists (PT) the past 15 years and pain increasing as I trained longer miles, it’s about time I found out how to control my pain (besides the superficial numbing of icing and Epsom salt baths…although they helped in the short run).

I’d heard of Muscle Release Technique® (MRT) and had it supposedly done to me a few times by masseuses and PT’s, however, I’d never find more than a day of relief afterwards. Today I went to a new MT, hoping to find some relief of a sore ‘hip flexor’ prior to a half marathon I will be doing this weekend. I came in using a gift card I had received from a friend, thinking I may find release for a few days; I was wrong. Yvonne Haney, LMP, specializing in Structural-based deep Tissue massage, has given me full relief! This not only consisted of MRT, but she focused on releasing tension from within first, then releasing tension in different areas of the body. This MRT was so much different than any I had previously underwent.  Yvonne held pressure on points of tightness much longer than I’d ever experienced (in order to break up scar tissue to experience true pain relief). The tightness in my hips, as I was newly informed today, extends from my tight quad muscles – so, she worked mostly on this and releasing the psoas. First she would find a tight/sensitive point, apply pressure, have me breathe deep, being mindful any tension I was holding, and then release it all, “melting into the table” with an exhale. After a few times of this ritual, each spot she applied pressure to had been relaxed, released, and relieved of pain.

Tonight, I experienced the best run of my entire life – completely pain free (except for the small stitch in my side the first mile from eating too many Valentine’s chocolates)! I’ve looked for relief from my hip/groin pain for years and years and today I’m free of it. So, I started thinking about Yvonne’s techniques of releasing tension from the “inner core” and letting pain in other areas of my body “melt away”. We did not have time to focus on my tight calves today, so at the beginning of my run there was a slight nagging (completely normal, nothing new). I started visualizing breathing into the pain during my run, feeling the tension as I inhaled and releasing it, seeing it “melt away” on my exhale. After a few times of doing so, the same release I felt during my massage earlier in the day with my hip, I also experienced during my run. That side-stitch I mentioned (bad, bad me for too many chocolates…) was quickly released after visualizing releasing the pain a few moments later. These sorts of breathing techniques are often sited in yoga, but never had I heard of them being applied directly in the moment while active (e.g. running, biking, hiking, etc.).

So, why does this work? Or is it just nonsense? When we are feeling pain, signals travel through our spinal cord creating a “synapse on neurons one or two segments below their segment of entry. These multiple connections relate to a broad area of body – this explains why it’s sometimes difficult to determine exact location of pain, especially internal pain” (How Stuff Works). The gate control theory recognizes the link between mind and body perception of pain, noting the many pathways pain messages must enter until they reach the spinal cord. These pathways are explained as gates and depending on how the gate processes the pain signal, the message can be handled in numerous ways: passed through to the brain, altered prior to being forwarded to the brain, and prevented completely. It is an extremely complex interaction between structures and more on it can be found here.  A great example of an interaction is pain occurring at the beginning or during a race, but the impact of endorphins ‘block’ an athlete from feeling serious, or even any pain. We are able to produce different hormones, like melatonin, which creates a sense of relaxation, often sleepiness. Melatonin is secreted in your brain when light decreases in the evening; a good time for relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, or now active release therapy through breathing. We can create all sorts of emotions, in turn creating chemicals that block pain signals. These sorts of chemicals released help ease with pain because pain is simply a tightness or tension in an area; we must mindfully learn how to relax it and let it go.

Now, I know the mind is powerful, but whenever anyone told me that it can physically release you from pain, I would never believe it. I thought it was a bunch of hogwash, that only the crazy hippies, high enough to be absent of their own bodies, would believe junk like this…I was wrong. I was dead wrong.

Before my “Bon Voyage!” on your next run try to use these breathing and mindfulness techniques to relieve pain you’re dealing with to see if it doesn’t just help. If you’re not getting or understanding this sort of breathing and release technique, I encourage you to call the best MT I’ve ever been to, Yvonne Haney (phone: 509.991.2962). That aggravating pain you’ve been dealing with, as an athlete or not, might just need some simple Mindful Breathing Release.

 -JVC 

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