Stress. We’re exposed to it and experience it to some degree every day of our lives. Sometimes we handle it fine, we recognise the signs and we put our foot on the brakes and stop to do something about it. More often we soldier on, ignoring those warning signs, naively believing that if we just carry on as normal those little niggles will go away. But they don’t. They get worse. Building up until eventually we reach breaking point. Suddenly we no longer have any choice in the matter. We are forced to stop.
The human body is a diary of every knock, bump, injury, trauma that it has ever been through; a blueprint if you like. And despite being an incredibly clever organism, designed to heal itself of these ‘knocks’, the tension and stress each one causes doesn’t necessarily always heal, even with time. In fact, as we slip back into bad habits and carry on ignoring the symptoms we make matters worse.
Where Does Stress Come From?
A small amount of stress is good for us. It keeps us on our toes, it makes us alert, it energises us, gets the job done. But the body can only handle so much before it has no choice but to step in and try to protect itself.
There are three different types of stress that we experience:
Mental/Emotional Stress – Anxiety, worry, feeling over worked and financial/health/work/family/body image worries etc.
Physical Stress – Injuries, aches, pains, incorrect posture etc.
Chemical Stress – Additives in food, viruses/bacteria, atmospheric pollutants, pollen, chemicals in cleaning products and make up etc.
And if we experience stress in one of these areas it is highly likely, if left untreated, that we will start to develop stress in the other ones too, as they are all connected to one another. For example, if you’re marathon training to excess not only do you risk injury, but you may also develop cold sores from where you’ve become run down, cramp because you’re not getting enough salt back into your diet, and you may become moody as your energy levels are zapped.
What is Body Stress Release?
As we grow older we almost come to expect that our health will deteriorate and that aches and pains are just part and parcel of the aging process. However that needn’t be the case. If we look after our bodies and are more mindful at paying attention to what they’re telling us, then we can continue to live our lives the way we want to. This is teamwork though folks, we need to act in harmony with our bodies rather than against it. After all, we’ve only got one body, it’s our home, our functioning being, our ultimate gift to ourselves. Perhaps it’s time we started looking after it a bit better, hey!?!
Body Stress Release (BSR) was developed in the early 1980s by Ewald and Gail Meggersee, a South African couple who as qualified chiropractors were desperate to find a treatment for the constant pain Ewald had been suffering from after he had fallen out of a tree as a child. It is a very gentle technique that in all honesty is one of those things that you have to experience yourself in order to understand how it works and what it feels like. It is perhaps easier to explain how it doesn’t work than how it does – there’s no massage, no manipulation, no machines, no medication.
So what is there then?
Well, firstly you have it done to you while you are fully clothed – you don’t even need to take your shoes off. So there’s none of the worry about having to wear paper paints or risking a towel slipping off as you turn over. And secondly you barely know you’re even having anything done to you while it’s going on, it’s that subtle. Just a few little taps and maybe some kneading in places, but it’s certainly not the crunch and pop you’d get from say a chiropractor. It’s about spotting the areas of tensions and releasing that stress and tightness.
But once this stress has been released, what then? Does that mean you’re fixed?
Well it will for a bit yes, but you can’t stop stress creeping into your life no matter how Zen you are. And so body stress release is I guess another one of those tools that you should have tucked away in your wellness toolkit. A bit like eating well and exercising regularly, BSR is a kind of body self care if you like.
Experiencing Body Stress Release
I was lucky enough to experience BSR first hand with a local Body Stress Release practitioner, Annabel Boys, who invited both myself and my husband (who has more body niggles than me) to have some sessions. She advised that I would need a minimum of 2-3 sessions, as once the stress has been released it starts a process that needs to be carried through.
The first session is mostly spent talking about body history, whether I’d had any injuries, if I currently ache in any particular areas, am I under any stress, what exercise I do, the job I do etc. I’ll be honest in that I don’t have that many body niggles (not that I know of anyway!) and so I was slightly dubious as to how this would help me. But then, prevention is very much better than cure, right?
After going through the formalities, I was taken over to….. THE BED! Now this isn’t your bog standard therapist bed, oh no this is a bed that allows you to stand on the end and then be lowered gently down into a horizontal position – great for people with restricted movement. I was offered the chance to just climb on, but come on this is me we’re talking about of course I picked the ‘fun’ option 😉
Annabel proceeded to do a series of tests to see if there is a recoil action. It’s a very subtle jump or flinch or shift in position that tells her that something’s not quite right. If this happens it means there is something there that needs to be released. As predicted Annabel picked up on my tight shoulders, but also found a big old knot in my lower back. She performed her magic – a closely guarded secret by the way – and then I was slowly tilted back up to standing.
I felt a little lightheaded when I first got up, but then I do have low blood pressure and am a bit prone to dizziness anyway. I did however feel lighter in myself, like when you’ve had a lovely massage and you’re kind of left feeling as if you’re floating on air. And I sort of felt more switched on, a bit more sensitive to my body, taller, more elongated, like I was holding myself better.
Annabel’s advice – to sit better. I work from home on a laptop, my posture is appalling. And this goes back to what I mentioned earlier about teamwork, because unless I do something to correct the way I sit, to stop myself hunching over the keyboard, then of course I’m going to have problems in the future.
The next day my neck and head ached. Annabel had warned me about this. A bit like when you detox, BSR brings out the problem. The stress had been released and it was my body reacting. I felt very tired and it had bought a lingering cold out. Not going to lie, I felt terrible for 2 days after the first sesh. I wanted to get to the bottom of why this was the case, was this normal, why was I not noticing the benefits. The thing is when you haven’t got that many niggles, the benefits are less noticeable. For people like me it is more about equipping our bodies with the ability to cope with day to day stresses and handle them without letting them get on top of us and therefore seizing up. BSR allows us to release, to become more fluid, it adds a flexible nature to stress so that it washes over us rather than encases us. And most importantly it is a way of helping to prevent future problems. We’re all guilty of only seeking help when a problem emerges. Why wait until there’s a problem?
Interview With Body Stress Release Practitioner Annabel Boys
Let me now pass you onto the expert and ask Annabel to explain a few things in more detail.
How would you describe BSR to someone who’s never heard of it before?
“It is a gentle, very relaxing, hands-on technique that focuses on locating and releasing tension from your muscles. You lie down fully clothed on a specially designed couch while your practitioner works on you. It is hard to describe how it feels – it really has to be experienced to understand!”
Is it suited to anybody in particular?
“BSR is suitable for all ages from babies to the elderly. My clients have ranged from a few weeks old to ninety-something years! I think older people are often particularly drawn to BSR because they like the fact that they don’t need to undress and also because it is so gentle.”
How did you get into BSR?
“I first heard about BSR nearly 15 years ago from a South African friend who had found it very helpful for her chronic lower back pain and headaches. I tried it, and after years of daily lower backaches I found it hugely helpful. I was fascinated by how such a gentle, non-invasive technique could have such a profound effect and so I decided to train to become a practitioner. At the time the only place in the world to train was in South Africa. I was fortunate to be one of the last practitioners to train with the original founders of BSR.
On returning to the UK I set up Hampshire’s first BSR practice in 2007. I currently work from Petersfield in Hampshire and from my home in Compton, near Chichester.
Clients often seem to come for BSR as a last resort, having tried the usual paths of physio, osteopathy, chiropractic and massage etc., with limited success. It is usually a kindly friend or family member who has tried and benefitted from the technique themselves who encourages them to come and give BSR a go.
I love how BSR can transform someone’s self-identity from someone with a ‘bad back’ to someone who feels confident that they know how to take care of their back and minimise any stress and discomfort. Someone who feels back in control rather than victim to their aches and pains. The work I do with clients is very much ‘team work’ – my job is to encourage their muscles to let go of tension and to then offer them simple tips for what they can do on a daily basis to reduce the stress that their bodies endure. I believe that good health isn’t about finding a ‘magic bullet’ – it is about listening to your body and practising consistent good habits around food, movement, rest and stress management. Body stress release can play a valuable part in this.”
Once you start having BSR sessions do you need to keep it up regularly?
“Many of my clients see BSR as part of a range of good habits they have built up to take care of themselves physically and mentally. In the same way that they might commit to regular exercise and nutritious food, they will make sure that they manage their stress through techniques that might include several BSR maintenance sessions a year. They say they can feel in their bodies when it is time for a session and that they feel better in themselves when they have regular checks.
Some people who rely on their bodies for their livelihoods will come for BSR as part of a taking care of their ‘work kit’, for example painters and decorators, gardeners, massage therapists, cleaners to name a few. Other people only come to see me when something hurts. They will come for a batch of sessions over a couple of months until they are comfortable again and then I don’t see them until it hurts again.”
Can you tell just by looking at someone whether they’re holding stress in their body?
“Life is stressful! Most people will have some sort of stress locked into their physical structures, but it might not be bothering them …. yet! Stress can build up in layers over many years – we are often blissfully unaware until the final straw and then suddenly we find ourselves on the floor with a back in spasm, or a frozen shoulder.
I definitely notice stuff in people. If I’m sat in a cafe mindlessly people-watching, I’ll often find myself getting curious about someone who is walking stiffly (lower back stress), or unevenly or holds their shoulders in a tight way. I went to an awards dinner for professional footballers recently and was struck by how many ex-footballers walk unevenly and just look uncomfortable – knees and hips in particular! I’ve yet to actually be brazen enough to go up to someone who looks like they are in pain/discomfort and suggest they try BSR … although I believe I do have clients who have done so on BSR’s behalf!!”
How will I know if it has ‘worked’?
“You’ll know! You’ll begin to notice improvements in posture, energy, stiffness, muscle flexibility and strength/stamina. You might sleep better or feel that your mood is brighter. Others might comment too! One 76 yr old lady with a stooped posture straightened up by 2 inches (according to her physio) when she’d been having BSR for just a few weeks.”
What will I feel like after a session?
“When muscles have been tight for a long period of time the nerves that run through them can have become a little numb. Once the muscles start to relax and pressure eases from the nerves, they are able to communicate better with the brain which can lead to an increase in discomfort until the irritation on the nerves subsides. It is usually only short-lived (a few days). It is a little bit like when you’ve trapped a finger in a door – it doesn’t hurt while trapped (under pressure), but really throbs once the pressure is released. It then settles down after a little time has passed.
Some also feel very tired and sleep particularly heavily after a session. One lady who came to see me a few years ago reported that she had slept for 14 hours straight after her first session. Others report getting a bit of an energy surge and suddenly wanting to get lots of jobs on their ‘to do’ list done! Everyone is different!”
Do you receive BSR on yourself?
“Absolutely! I’d love to have more, but the closest practitioner to me is in Romsey so it takes a chunk out of the working day to get there and back. I try to make sure that I organise a ‘swap’ with a colleague at least once a month – my work puts a strain on my back and my thumbs in particular, and so if I don’t look after myself I know that they will begin to grumble. I know I feel so much better when I have regular BSR sessions – I am calmer as a parent (my teen is mid-exams and so plenty of stress at home!), I am also better able to run comfortably and stronger and more flexible in my yoga practice. I’m a bit of a sporadic gardener, and BSR helps my back to cope better with the digging too. I can’t afford not to look after my body, because if my back ‘goes’ I won’t be able to work.”
What are your top tips for easing the stress in our lives?
“A little stress is in fact good for us, it helps us to grow and strengthen. When we go to the gym essentially what we are doing is putting our muscles under physical ‘stress’ by lifting weights etc. This moderate stress encourages those muscles to adapt and strengthen, but if we push it too hard by trying to lift something too heavy and we reach our point of overload, then our brains will stop us in our tracks by tightening muscles to protect ourselves from damaging our bodies. This is basically what is happening when we ‘put our back out’ – the muscles go into spasm and we are forced to stop and rest. It is our body’s natural protective mechanism, stopping us from really over-doing it.
Similarly moderate mental/emotional stress can be positive. It can help focus the mind on revision, or help to motivate us to meet a deadline. Same with chemical stress – we need to expose our immune systems to pathogens for them to develop properly – a child raised in a very sterile environment will struggle to cope with normal levels of dust/grubbiness/animal hair etc.”
*collaborative post (article commissioned in exchange for BSR sessions)