Category Archives: Thai massage

Suggested programmes on BBC iplayer

trust me i'm a doctorMichael Mosley seems to be everywhere.  I’m really enjoying the programmes he is involved in.  If you were at one of the Wednesday evening classes recently, here is a link to the programme where they look at the effect of massage on white blood cells.  The massage in question looks like Swedish massage and is skin to skin.  I’m not sure how this translates to clothed massage or the effect of massaging just the feet as in Reflexology.  I would like to think that any therapeutic touch will elicit the same benefit.  I’ve always told clients to choose the therapy they enjoy the most as this is the one that will be the most beneficial.  What do you think? :

Link to Trust Me I’m a Doctor (Eps 5, Series 8)

And the next programme was on last night.  They look at the benefits of Tai Chi compared to Zumba and the results really are worth listening to.  I know we do not do Tai Chi and I suspect a teacher from that tradition would be able to give an opinion on what is happening energetically and physically.  But it makes you think about all mindful bodywork approaches …:

Link to Trust Me I’m a Doctor (Eps 6, Series 8)


Y x

Reflection: Pain, breath and trust

I’ve just finished reading Hell Bent by Benjamin Lorr.  The subtitle reads ‘obsession, pain and the search for something like transcendence in competitive yoga’.  It’s a compelling read detailing the author’s journey and relationship with ‘hot yoga’ or Bikram yoga.  I found myself both intrigued and challenged.


Bikram yoga follows a set sequence of postures, 26 in this beginning sequence, leading to 91 postures.  Performed in high temperatures.  If you become hooked, you will end up body beautiful with a high level of fitness.  And you might suffer a stroke along the way, faint and work through extreme pain in the body.  There are some amazing success stories that seem impossible but I trust the author who has researched ideas, talked with experts outside of the yoga community and literally bent over backwards to ask questions and find answers for his experience and others’ experience of this approach to yoga.

The reasearch on how we interpret pain got me thinking about my experiences of working with clients in pain.  A clinic in Minnesota conducted a study of sixty patients waiting for back surgery.  They took part in a ten week programme focused on strengthening key muscles that support the spine.  Forty six participants completed the study and only three of those went on to have surgery.

The clinic questioned conventional medical wisdom in four ways:

  1. Avoiding surgery: Dr Nelson, the clinic founder and director’ is quoted as saying that 85% of the time the exact cause of pain in the study group could not be determined.  CT scans showed abnormalities in patients but it was discovered that people with no back pain have similar abnormalities on CT scans.  The abnormalities could not be confirmed as the source of pain and questioned surgery as an option.
  2. Intensive rehab: exercise programmes were used to overload the muscle until it failed to work.  At failure, nerve/muscle pathways are activated and the muscle adapts.  The muscles are sore but healing is promoted.  Pain did not need to be avoided.
  3. Specific attention: weakened muscles were isolated for strength work using exercise machines, whilst ignoring the muscles guarding the area.  Often painful areas become weaker due to underuse and the person finds ways to compensate.  This can lead to further weakness and a complicated tangle of pain and issues.
  4. To complete the exercise programme, the patients would experience pain and they needed to accept this was part of the rehab.  Our understanding of pain is incomplete.  The study attempted to educate the patients to understand that ‘Pain actually changes the pain’.  They needed to understand that pain does not mean the same as harm.  Often where the pain is perceived to be, is not where the problem originated.  The pain being felt is in another part of the nervous system.  In addition, surgery on the area of concern will not change the pain because this is not where the pain is being experienced.

The same doctor talks about the positive effects of forward bending and backbending on IMG_3104 Y utanasana arms backvertebral discs.  Discs have negligible blood supply which means a limited supply of nutrients to the disc and removal of waste products from the disc via the process of diffusion.  In a compressed disc diffusion is even more limited.  Forward bends and backbends encourage the diffusion of nutrients from the blood into the discs and ‘are probably the only ways we know of to increase diffusion to the disc’.

This particularly resonated with the author, being a member of the Backbending club.  Lorr describes backbending as awesome: ‘training for the mind: both the deep primitive areas governing pain and the more socially important limbic channels responsible for emotions and fear.  I found this interesting too.  I am often told by clients that they are told not to do forward or backward bending.  This advice needs to be individualised, not  everyone needs to avoid this movement neither should that everyone should do it.

Lorr goes on to describe the effects of his extreme backbending practice: hallucinations, waves of tears, anger, and pulsing headaches are just a few of the many releases that occur as you work.’  Also, ‘To really backbend you have to become intimate with pain, not as an informational entity that raises awareness, not as a warning, but as a phenomenon every time it comes up, and ultimately move through it while it screams in your face.’

This is very different to my experience of yoga and I am not tempted to try it.  The idea of understanding and exploring uncomfortable sensations to see if they are harmful or informative has to be a good thing.  This is a regular practice in talking therapies where clients are given a space to process painful experiences to come to a new understanding or level of acceptance.  Often after bodywork, the client feels more uncomfortable but it has a different quality and a positive aspect.  Tension is often released but the communication between the muscles and the brain is more accurate and clear.

In my role as a bodywork practitioner I regularly listen to people’s stories and watch them sit with physical and emotional pain. Different parts of the person ask for attention; those parts may seem unrelated to the original trauma or perceived thread of related issues.  We are often hijacked by the loudest player of the piece but it can be a distraction as described in the study where a part of the nervous system away from the compromised area is in protest.  Often the first step when working with pain is to be in it and to listen.

yoga_soundI listen to the words.  I listen to the body in my hands.  I listen to the space in the room.  What I am told does not always correlate to what I feel and hear in my hands.  Most of all I listen to the breath.  When the breath disappears, we wait.  The moment a deeper breath is taken there is a change.  The breath mediates and in its honesty leads the way to a healing experience.  That healing comes from the person and their relationship to their place in the world; I am a facilitator sometimes a bystander.  It might be a complete release or just the start of a new journey.  It takes time and trust.  But there is change.

When the body is heard it is often ready to receive touch and movement.  And when the body is ready, how the mind experiences the pain changes.  The relationship between the mind and body may be recalibrated and clarified and then we can begin to understand what is harmful and what is healing.  The mind and body is an important relationship and when separated from one another there is miscommunication and confusion, as in any relationship.  Their mediator is the breath.  Bring the breath to the front of bodywork practices and magic really does occur.

© Yvonne Cattermole

Cores and centres

find your centreWhat is our core and what is our centre?  I often use core and centre interchangeably but in my head, I make two distinctions: my core is physical and my centre is metaphysical.  Whilst they are different, they are related.  This piece of writing is an attempt to explain what I mean when I use these words.  I’ve written, deleted, added … it appears it is a work in progress.  Have a read and let me know what you think.

When we move from our physical centre, we move with fluidity and grace.  When we move from our metaphysical centre we move with integrity and grace.  If we are displaced, we become agitated and tension develops.  A displacement in one centre, affects the other.  Tension in the mind filters into the body and vice versa.  If we have become disconnected through trauma or to protect ourselves from a level of discomfort, we have to mindfully rebuild connections to allow us to return to coordinated beauty.

Different bodywork practitioners and teachers often refer to ‘the core’: working from the core, strengthening the core, feeling the core.  It is a complicated system providing stabilisation and movement.  The core is located at the body’s centre of gravity and is where all physical movement begins.  (I am aware that not all practitioners work with these concepts and you may have your own understanding/visualisations.)

spineStructurally the core is considered to be the part of the skeleton that makes up the lumbar spine, pelvis and hips (the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex) as well as the thoracic and cervical spine.

There are twenty nine muscles with attachments to the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex.  These muscles are also part of the ‘core’.  The muscles form two systems for either stabilisation (in the trunk) or movement (trunk and legs).  These two systems need to work together to distribute weight, absorb force and allow movement.

The quality and state of the muscles is important.  Imbalances in muscle strength and their recruitment can create strain and discomfort which leads to increased tightness and weaknesses.  Imbalances may be caused through lack of use, repetitive and habitual movement, poor posture, illness and stress, also trauma through sport or accidental damage.  As well as lack of comfort, muscles become tired (we become tired), as the wrong muscles do the wrong jobs.  Global muscles or muscles of movement start to stabilise by ‘locking on’.  They are doing work they are not designed to do.  Muscles can adapt to get you through the day but it is not sustainable.  Whilst some muscles become overworked, others are not used and weaken.

The following thought experiment illustrates what happens when we use global muscles for stability.  How do you feel in your mind and body at each stage?  Take half a minute or so to be at each stage:

  1. imagine walking on an even, stable surface …
  2. now change the walking surface, for example, walking on the deck of a boat, soft sand or a pebbled beach …
  3. finally, return to the first visualisation …

In order to walk on unstable surfaces, we make many adjustments.  It does not take much imagination, to feel the concentration required and sense the tension developing in the muscles, as well as the outstretched arms and tentative footsteps mimicking the uncertain mind.  Those tired muscles have become stabilisers as well as being required to move you.  Stabilisation is not their job but they will attempt to do it.  It is also clear that the muscles are not separate to our being.  We do a good job of separating out parts of the body, as though the bits that don’t work are not a part of us.

In summary, the core needs to be stable in order for us to move efficiently, avoiding strain and fatique.   Our core has a ‘centre’ of stablising muscles which work in concert with larger global muscles.   When we use global muscles to stabilise, we take ourselves away from the core and centre and the effect is tiredness on all levels, leading to discomfort and vulnerability.

Coming back to our metaphysical centre all the above applies.  Afterall we are holistic beings, a whole organism.  We can become chronically tired which often results in our moving away from our metaphysical centre too.  The response to find comfort is commonly a physical one to ignore or over-ride symptoms:

Consider these possible responses to feeling tired:

  1. I’ll have a coffeemuir
  2. I’ll have a rest

Or possible responses to feeling stressed:

  1. I’ll have a glass of wine
  2. I’ll meditate


The scenarios I’ve written are my own but they are not unique to me; tiredness is my main de-centring influence.  It affects my physical core and my metaphysical centre.  I can override it by ingesting false adrenalin or I can give be kind to myself and rest or come back to a single focus.

In homeopathic teachings, symptoms are a call from the soul that attention or change is needed.  The first symptoms of dis-ease are minor and physical.  Have you been in the position where you have been exhausted but you ignore it?  Perhaps you develop a cold and work through it.  It might be ok or you it develops further and you have to stop because it ‘goes to the chest’ or you experience deeper symptoms elsewhere.  Once we are well, we often return to the same routine that made us unwell, forgetting or choosing to forget that our lifestyle choices made us susceptible in the first place.  And the cycle begins again.

Centres and cores are important:

They allow our deeper selves to be nurturing and cultivate a holistic approach to self-care.  When we can care deeply for ourselves then we can care for others.  Yoga is not a system to enable us to withdraw into our own centre and ignore the outside but a practice that allows us to be in our centre and available to others.  This is true of most therapeutic work.  Life is relationship.

When I am in my centre, I am strong and knowing – both physically and in myself.  Discomfort and desires are fleeting distractions.  I can be in relationship and know where I end and the other begins.  Their projection of the world does not influence my understanding of me.  I also am aware of my projections and expectations.  I am responsible for my thoughts, my words and my actions.  Blame and judgement can be put down.  It is liberating.

My connection to centre is sacred and sometimes elusive.  It is a personal journey.  A teaching passed to me by my teachers was that of axis and form.  The axis is our centre or core and the form is the shape we make.  In yoga philosophy, the axis and form is described as purusa and prakrti.  Purusa is constant in the universe and ourselves.  It does not change and is immaterial, elusive, it cannot be described.  It can be translated as the ‘dweller in the city’.  Prakrti is everything that is material, it is in constant flux.  It is the ‘city’.  We have practiced yoga with the idea that the inhale takes us into our shape (prakrti) and the exhale returns us to centre (purusa).  I have invited you to discover your own relationship to centre.

One argument for purusa’s existence is that if we are aware of change and flux (prakrti) then something must be constant for us to know there is change.  It is this argument that clarified purusa for me.  In the stillest moments of meditation, when I am absorbed, it is amazing.  Unfortunately, those moments are rare and I am not steady enough to just stay there, I notice that ‘I’m in it!’ and with my attention distracted, the moment is gone.

Does any of this resonate?  I hope it makes the yoga classes/lessons clearer.  It also gives some insight into how I offer bodywork whether that is reflexology, massage or reiki.  I enjoy exploring these ideas and putting them into my life is the practice.

Looking forward to more discussions with you

Blessings, Yvonne

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