Your everyday aches and pains may be triggered by a surprising cause—your thoughts and emotions. That's the philosophy behind Hellerwork, a type of bodywork that uses deep-tissue massage, movement training, and talk therapy to help clients get rid of pain and develop a profound understanding of the mind-body link.
"Form follows thought," explains Marilyn Perlis, a Hellerwork practitioner based in Rowayton, Conn. In fact, she adds, many everyday expressions "tell a story of what effect our thoughts have on the body." If someone is being tight-lipped, keeping a stiff upper lip, or feeling tongue-tied, it only follows that they may also be feeling pain in the mouth and jaw. Here are some other expressions that easily translate:
- Head Case
Overthinking can lead to pain in the head, neck, and shoulders, says Perlis. When you find yourself worrying or getting lost in thought, make an effort to stop and check for the following warning signs: restrained breathing, eyestrain, and feelings of fatigue, thirst, or hunger. Any of these things can lead to a headache, says Perlis. By listening to your body, you can ward off the pain. Stand up and go for a walk or stop to take a few deep breaths.
- Gut Feeling
Hellerwork teaches that the gut-the stomach and intestines-plays an important role in the intake and output of physical and emotional energy, so stress and agitation can easily cause stomachaches, nausea, shortness of breath, and bowel problems. When you're making a decision—say you're considering an alternate route on a road trip or trying to decide whether to bring up a touchy topic with a friend—try to take note of what's happening in your abdominal region. Is it cramping up or feeling uneasy? "Ask yourself, 'Do I need to slow down? Do I need to take action?'" suggests Perlis. Answering such questions can prompt you to make a positive change, she adds. For example, you may choose to leave a place where you're feeling unsafe or back off from making a purchase you might otherwise regret.
- Hold Your Tongue
Perlis says that when you hold back on speaking your mind, your jaw clenches, and this habit can lead to jaw and mouth pain. Although you can't speak your mind in every situation, take note of when you silence yourself and "listen to urges to speak up sooner rather than later," she suggests. Pay attention to your teeth, and notice what makes them clench. And don't be afraid to express appropriate anger, Perlis adds.
- Feeling Uptight
Another principle of Hellerwork is that people often tighten their pelvic-floor muscles (the layer of muscles stretching from the pubic bone to the spine) when they're frustrated by a situation they can't control, says Perlis. The habit can lead to lower back pain or bladder problems, like the need to urinate frequently, or even incontinence. When you find yourself in a difficult situation, see if you can feel any tension in your pelvic muscles. If you recognize that it's your pattern to tighten up, make a conscious effort to relax the area.
- Don't Hold Back
According to the rules of Hellerwork, holding back your emotions—positive or negative—can lead to back pain. "The things we hold on to get stored in our back, literally," says Perlis. The result may be rigidity, tension, and instability, all of which spell trouble. While it's not always possible to be fully expressive, says Perlis (especially in a workplace, for example), regular exercise can help diffuse pent-up emotions.