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Friday, September 23, 2011

When Exercise Science Turns Mystical

My boyfriend and I were recently invited by a massage therapist we know to attend a three hour seminar on myofascial release technique (MFR.)  We were really looking forward to it as we are both big believers in the benefits of MFR and were anxious to learn some new techniques. The Myofascial Release Center hosted this training at The Awareness Center-for Kundalini Yoga and Meditation.  That should’ve been my first clue.  While I have only a vague understanding of Kundalini Yoga-and Chakras, (coupled with just a passing knowledge of Iyengar and restorative yoga styles), I should have realized I might have signed on for more than I bargained for.
The requirement of a yoga mat and a blanket, were not consistent with what I imagined the necessary equipment for MFR work would be. But I placed my mat near the front of the room and did some stretching to kill time as the other participants arrived.

Our instructors, both barefoot, make-up-less and dressed in black from head to toe, began the training by rubbing some fragrant essential oils on parts of our head and/or face as this MFR training was specific to treating different types of headaches.  As “Laura” (her Yoga name was something utterly unpronounceable), left her mark in eucalyptus oil streaks across my cheeks, I began to wonder what I’d gotten myself into.

My 6’ 4,” 260 lb. boyfriend, as open-minded and progressive as he is, was the only male in the room, bless his heart-he just went with the flow. After a brief definition of fascia, its function and structure; we got down to it. 

We expected kneading flesh, elbows, and some version of massage.  Instead, we were instructed to place our hands on different areas of the face, head, and throat of our nearest classmate using only the gentlest of pressure.  Just because I am not familiar with this technique, doesn’t mean it isn’t viable and legitimate, it just seemed to be the complete antithesis of what the exercise world I inhabit, considers MFR.  Furthermore, my hesitation could very well have been a reflection of a lack of understanding of other forms of MFR.  Nevertheless, I went with it…and things got “unusual.” 

As we stood holding our partner’s head in one of 3 positions (depending on the type of headache they had), the person seated was instructed to let go and allow the body’s innate understanding of “what it needs” to release pent up tension and emotions.  We were to allow the head, neck, and shoulders to drop, swing, swirl, twist, or move in any way they "needed" to go-all while having our head cradled in the safety of our partner’s hands.  Being the science-type that I am, I had to reconcile my initial reaction to this woo-woo, hippy-dippy “exercise” with the part of my personality that insisted I be adventurous, non-judgmental, and open-minded. Relaxed with eyes closed, some participants moaned, some cried out, some (like me), were startled into silence.
When it was my turn to “release,” I decided that I would actively and authentically participate and see what happened. What else was I going to do?  

Maybe it was the weight of ten pounds of skull, my skull, swinging in a relaxed, pendulum-like state, side to side and around, but I have to admit, the phrase “demonic possession” did wander through my thoughts and what did happen could only be described as “out of body” -a moment, an episode, an experience, or whatever it is now known as.   No one was more surprised at all this than I was.

After a brief interlude that had us lying on a soft, tennis ball-sized plastic ball just under our clavicle (by far the closest thing to what I recognized as MFR that day), we were told it was now time for a “group unwinding.”

I thought I’d handled the demonic possession with class and elegance until instructions were given for the group unwinding.  In groups of four, we were to take turns being unwound.  Surrounding our “person,” we began “laying on hands,” like a Pentecostal revival.  We touched the person or rather, “the unwound” (not to be confused with the undead), by placing our hands at the base of their skull, on their forehead, one on the lumbar spine, the stomach and a hand to hold each arm.  Our job was to “support” this person as they released tension, emotion, and, we were told, anything else that might come up (I wondered very seriously what that might be.)

Music unexpectedly filled the room that I later discovered was taken from a CD called “Drum Sex” as the person unwinding gyrated, dipped, swayed, dove (their head coming dangerously close to the floor at times), twisted, sweated and writhed to tribal drum tracks recorded not by anyone with a “real” African sounding name like Agbonbiofe Adeshina but by Brent Lewis.)  The drums added much in the way of authenticity.  Authentically what, I couldn’t tell you.  Something akin to True Blood meets Pentecostal Revival (minus the speaking in tongues.)
If it seems as though I’m being critical of unwinding (or whatever it is), and/or Kundalini Yoga in general (if that's what this was), I'm not.  I just wasn't prepared.  As interesting as it was, it caught me completely off guard.  I probably wouldn't have signed up for this had I known that I'd be taken out of my comfort zone to such a degree.  But ultimately, (in keeping with the theme), I think it was "meant to be."  Again, I come from a science background and while I wholeheartedly believe in the benefits of Yoga (which pre-dates me by a few thousand years), I thought this was going to be a myofascial release seminar dealing with a more clinical approach to muscle relaxation, increasing circulation, lymphatic drainage, and stimulation of the muscle's stretch reflex. 
As proof of my willingness to be an open, malleable, free-spirit (those who know me, might give me “open”…just to be kind), when asked to describe in three words, what we just experienced, one of the participants…(me), replied “I thought it was very uninhibited, animalistic, and sexual.” So much for science.

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  1. You go girl! I think it must have been like our Meg Ryan movie...Love, Joy and Peace, Suzzy

  2. That's not the MFR I get! If that's what they're telling people will help them, they're going to be in trouble.

    Bless you for sticking around, Jini. I would have walked out.

  3. @Theresa

    Thanks for reading!

    However enjoyable, this was not MFR as I knew it either. I looked into it a bit and was told that for legal reasons, hands-on practice amongst participants of a workshop is prohibited.

    Nevertheless, I think anyone in need of serious, soft tissue therapy that elongates, stretches, and/or breaks up adhesive tissue should engage the services of a qualified practitioner who will apply an appropriate amount of pressure to fascial and other tissues in an effected area, contributing greatly to the healing process.