BIO: Beth Baron is a bodyworker in private practice in Berkeley, California. She is a board certified Myofascial Trigger Point Therapist, and has certificates in Massage Therapy and Somatic Therapy. She trained at the Heartwood Institute in Garberville, CA and apprenticed at the Myofascial Pain Treatment Center in San Francisco. She has over 13 years of experience providing bodywork to people of all ages. In addition to her professional studies as a massage therapist, she holds a BA from Harvard University in American Deaf Studies. She is currently training in Somatic Experiencing. For more information, please visit her website: http://bethbaron.com.
Sections in this interview:
1.) Kim Pratt (KP): Hi Beth, I’m excited to chat with you today about your work as a bodyworker in private practice. I know that you specialize in myofascial therapy. Can you explain what myofascial therapy is and how this differs from, say, Swedish massage?
Beth: It is much slower. Instead of gliding over skin and muscle, the contact moves into the tightness, either stretching it like taffy, unwinding it like a handful of tangled rubber bands, or pinning it down with steady pressure so that it sort of “hurts good” and then releases. The slow pace allows both me and the client to feel more specifically and more deeply where there is tension or restriction. When someone needs an overall soothing experience and wants touch over the whole body, the rhythmic quality and long strokes of traditional Swedish massage is helpful. When someone needs specific tissue to release, or needs deep tension to be reached, or just wants to have a deep “in the body” experience, the myofascial work is usually better.
To answer more technically, I’ve trained in two modalities with “myofascial” in the name, Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy and Myofascial Release. “Myo” means muscle and “fascia” is the connective tissue which is kind of like a web throughout the whole body. It’s like the sausage casing that holds everything together. It’s pretty amazing tissue. We have a sense of bones, nerves, etc., but most lay people have not really heard of fascia. But, the thing that’s funny about it is that it’s what holds our shape together. If you were to leave your skin, eyes, teeth, hair, nails and fascia and take away everything else, you would look the same. The image is a little creepy, I know…(laughs).
KP: Yes, that’s a bit creepy… (laughter).
Beth: Fascia is the supportive tissue that surrounds and supports all of our cells, muscles and bones. It’s the silvery stuff on raw chicken if you’ve ever cooked one. Ifyou were to sprain your ankle, when your ankle stiffens, that’s the fascia responding to force with force. It has the tensile strength of steel, it’s very strong. If you hit it hard, it will harden. But, if you go slow, it will melt.
With Myofascial Release, instead of pushing through the tightness as you might with deep tissue, you move into the tissue until it won’t move anymore and just wait. Eventually the fascia softens and melts. You can effect a lot of structural changes in the body that way. From my point of view, the melting is very satisfying. When I’m on the table receiving this kind of work, when someone finds the exact right quality of touch to for the melting to happen, it feels like nothing else in the world.
Some people believe fascia is the physical tissue that holds body memory. Though I don’t think you can talk about body memory without talking about the nervous system, this makes sense to me. Your fascia can get shortened from , from holding a certain posture for a long time. Emotional and mental states affect the way we hold our bodies, and vice versa. When you open up fascia that has held you in a particular shape for a long time, feelings, emotions,or changes in state can come up. That’s one of the parts that I’ve been most interested in.
KP: Ok, so that’s the “release” part of myofascial release. Can you explain the “trigger point” component of myofascial therapy?
Beth: I’ll explain what myofascial trigger point therapy is by starting with an image that illustrates how muscles work. If you point your fingers toward each other, with the fingertips touching, that’s when the muscle is elongated, but when the fingers intertwine with each other, like when you’re clasping your hands together, that’s when the muscle is contracted. A trigger point is an area where those fibers get stuck. That particular fiber or group of fibers in the muscle can’t lengthen. When that happens, there can often be “referred pain.” Referred pain is when you don’t necessarily feel it in the place where the problem is. Instead, you might feel the pain, or stiffness or whatever the dysfunction is, somewhere else. So, if somebody comes in with arm pain, I’m going to look at their neck,shoulders and upper back as well as arms, depending on exactly where they hurt. When I find the trigger points then I slowly and steadily press in so that the muscles can lengthen and relax. I find that being able to tune into the fascia helps me to find the trigger points and find the right pressure and angle for them.
KP: That sounds like a different approach and philosophy then say, somebody just offering a traditional massage?
Beth: Yes. I think of “bodywork” as a bigger category that can include traditional massage, but also includes other modalities. I tend to package the session based on what somebody is coming in for. For example, someone might come in to see me and not have a specific injury per se, but be interested in a more integrative approach, so I’ll structure that as a full body massage. But it’s pretty likely that I’ll find some trigger points or some constricted fascia somewhere, which will take me into the myofascial release direction. Then, I’ll slow down and put steady pressure on that trigger point, with some movement through the range of motion. It’s all integrated in.
But, with someone who is really focused on the pain in their arm or lower back, I’ll probably do a scan to get some general information about the body, but then go right for the restrictions that seem to be related to the pain. Providing a head-to-toe experience isn’t on the radar right then, but might be needed later on. It depends on what someone comes in with.
KP: Yes, that makes sense – that it’s dependent on what the person comes in with, what the presenting issues are. But with your training and experience, you’re able to draw on a variety of modalities, to suit the particular needs of the client.
Beth: Some people will ask me if it all costs the same for all the different things I do and I say, “yes, of course” because I want to have all my tools in the tool bag available at anytime. I’m definitely more of an eclectic, than a purist when it comes to bodywork…I integrate and connect to the person, to their body and try go to where help is needed and do whatever will help.