If it’s one thing we are proud of here at Lumos Transforms, it is our amazing, diverse staff. Our clinical staff brings a variety of certifications, trainings, and experience into their practices. Each facilitator has a unique set of skills and gifts that extend beyond The Resilience Toolkit.
We’re giving you a more in-depth look at what our clinical staff is up to by featuring a series of Q&A blog posts showcasing some of their recent endeavors. Today we’re talking with Mary P. Shriver.
Q: Hi Mary! In addition to being a Trainer in our certification program, and a Resilience Toolkit Facilitator, you’re also a massage therapist. Can you tell us how you blend these modalities together?
A: When people come to see me, they may be seeking relief from a variety of physical or emotional symptoms. Some people are in physical pain presenting with symptoms like chronic muscle tightness, weakness, or injuries, and other people may be experiencing anxiety or depression. Because my private practice is based out of a physical therapy office, the majority of my clients are referred to me by PTs. This population is suffering from symptoms that may be “issues in the tissue,” but the tissue issues are often caused or exacerbated by unconscious bracing patterns from non-relenting stress or maladaptive, habituated movement strategies.
Some clients have acute injuries, but many times their pain (physical or emotional) is ongoing. New pain science helps us to understand that some pain can be caused by the over-sensitization of nerves due to acute or developmental trauma. Before we even think about looking at their trauma, however, I teach my clients to regulate their nervous systems. This is where The Resilience Toolkit is crucial. Nervous system regulation using The Toolkit is pretty much the foundation of all the work I do. First, we find a baseline of safety within the body, and then we can begin the work of identifying the root cause of the symptom and healing using any number of strategies.
When clients come see me, we can’t rush the process. Education and re-education is a big part of what I do because I know that the most profound and permanent healing comes gently over time.
I know that the most profound and permanent healing comes gently over time.
Q: You recently completed a certification program for prenatal massage. How did that come about?
A: I see clients in my private practice at Fusion Wellness and Physical Therapy in Studio City, CA. The lead PT there, Heather Jeffcoat, is a top pelvic floor PT, and her clients come in seeking help for issues like incontinence, diastasis recti, painful sex, prolapses, hernias, and other issues which are common symptoms for many people (like athletes), but especially affect postpartum moms.
With so many pelvic floor clients coming through the office, I knew it would be helpful to brush up on prenatal massage. Diving into this specialty expanded my familiarity with the musculoskeletal aspects of the pelvis and gave me a deeper understanding of what’s at play in the bodies of these clients. So, I now have the added knowledge as well as offering pregnancy massage and touch as a specialized service to the client population there.
Q: You also are completing a training in Piston Science. What is that?
A: I’m privileged to learn about piston science from two women leading the charge in new ways to think about movement strategies when it comes to wellness vis-a-vis the pelvic floor. Julie Wiebe and Katie Bowman are not just educating regular folk like you and me, but re-educating doctors to view the body as a set of synergetic, neuro-muscular systems vs. the more limited, traditional, mechanical, and dualistic view.
Think of it this way, the whole trunk of the body is a pressure chamber. The diaphragm, which is the lid of the body canister, and the pelvic floor, which is the bottom of the canister, is a system which works together as a piston expanding and recoiling with every inhale and exhale. If any one of the muscles in the team that support this piston fails to do its job for some reason or another (ie. injuries or bad postural habits) the whole system goes into a compensatory response. This will result in any number of the symptoms I mentioned before. The great news is that they are mostly fixable. Stress incontinence and painful sex, for instance, may be common, but no one needs to live with these conditions.
Q: How do prenatal massage and piston science relate? How did you make this connection?
A: Learning pregnancy massage re-focused me on the pelvis, and I immediately saw the role piston science and stress play when people have pelvic floor disorders.
In this sedentary culture of ours, the pelvic floor is bearing more of our weight during the day than our legs and feet. We sit on our poor tailbones instead of our using our sit -bones and then the poorly understood, poorly used, muscle systems around them are overtaxed and exhausted and almost never get any attention, even when you go for a professional massage. So many healthcare providers dismiss legitimate concerns and discomfort people have. Peeing when you sneeze or pain during intercourse don’t have to be symptoms you just live with. When we combine external palpitations with work that focuses on restoring the floor of the body’s pressure chamber, the physical and emotional effects can be dramatic.
Q: And what do either of these have to do with The Resilience Toolkit?
A: This is the fun bit. When clients come to see me either their doctor or therapist has referred them to me, someone has warned them about the consequences of living in a state of high stress, or they are suffering from refractory, chronic, or acute symptoms. They arrive often not knowing that in addition to whatever symptom is presenting, their internal alarms are stuck in the “on” position which has them bracing, clenching, protecting, and/or holding 24/7. We have 13 separate but interdependent systems in the body (eg. digestion, respiration, circulation, muscles, skin, skeleton etc.) The bracing in the muscular and skeletal system is a response to that alarm. That alarm sets off a cascade of chemicals that affect all the other systems in the body, either speeding them up or slowing them down, including the digestive system whose viscera is responsive to pressure. Whether we’re working on musculoskeletal issues through massage, or balancing internal pressure system through piston work, I maintain that constrictions due to a highly activated nervous system are a roadblock to health and wellness.
No matter what the complaint or issue, relaxing the nervous system so that the client stops bracing and holding, is always the first step in healing.
Q: What does a private session look like?
A: This is tricky to answer because all my sessions are responsive to the needs of my client! I have some clients who just come for massage, some who come for The Resilience Toolkit and the therapeutic tremor specifically, and some are a combination.
I think it is safe to say that I do half talking and teaching and half movement or touch. So, typically, when I first meet a client we review their paperwork so I can focus in on their stated ‘chief complaints’. Naturally, it is important for me to know what has brought them in, but I also want to get a sense of what may be driving these issues at a deeper level. I then look at how well resourced they are and how well they can regulate under stress and bounce back from adversity. I get a sense of how the client likes to work in a session, and I try to find the language and pace that meets them where they are. Once I have a sense of who and where they are and where they want to be, we design a plan together and collaborate on goal setting. Like I’ve said, I spend a lot of time on education, but sometimes a client isn’t in the mood to listen or is too activated to process too much information in one go.
Depending on their issues and needs, I use my trauma-informed training to make recommendations on how to move forward. If touch is something that seems appropriate, we will proceed to therapeutic massage. If touch is not right for the client, I may pull out my handy-dandy toolkit and start trying out assorted mindfulness and/or movement tools. It’s a very fluid, iterative, responsive process. Some clients see me regularly every week, some only come for a few consecutive sessions to learn the framework and tools and move on, and others come for The Resilience Toolkit and stay for the massage. I do a lot of work in tandem with the office PT’s where they ask me to work on specific areas of the body to support their long-term therapeutic plan. I am also one of the only facilitators on our staff that does house calls, and in Los Angeles, turns out, that’s a big deal.