Unlock tension with Body Stress Release

Persistant stiff neck, lower back pain and a tingling sensation down my left arm has seen me visiting two different GPs over a period of 3 years, only to be given a blank stare and change of topic.

Maybe I was simply stressed. Would I need anti-depressants? Or anti-inflammatories for the pain in my arm?

I declined. And continued to live in discomfort.

Until one day I read a story on body stress release on Health24.com.

My gut reaction was that this was another bit of quackery and only intended for the desperate or hipsters embracing their natural you.

But something in what I read touched a nerve; the one talking to my tingling hand, and I picked up the phone to make an appointment with Sarah Davies of Unlockingtension.co.za.

She seemed lucid and with a background in publishing, I was confident she was not going to spin me a story of how my body can heal itself through a couple of taps on my head and a lot of positive thinking.

Of course the body can heal itself, but I don't have time for a huge lifestyle change. I just needed the aches and pains to go away and have full use of my left arm again.

Before I continue, let me just point out that the discomfort from my arm was at times so bad the pain "radiated" into my armpit, and by the time I drove up to Ms Davies' therapy room it had moved over to my right side.

I was scared I might have cancer, but hoped fervently that it was only unlocked tension gone really bad.

Other than bad posture, especially when sitting, and a lot of slouching, I have had my dose of accidents: I was run over by a car as a child and fell on my head, leading to having to learn how to walk all over again; I suffered whiplash in a self-caused motor accident later in life; and fell off horses and out of trees growing up. And these are just the ones I am willing to admit to  . . .

As a writer and digital journo, I also spend an awful amount of time at my desk in office chairs that have varied in quality from the reasonably good to the downright illegal. 

Image: How stress affects the body. From American Institute of Stress

What is Body Stress Release?

According to Sarah, Body Stress Release (BSR) is a health technique developed back in the 80s by South Africans Ewald Meggersee and his wife Gail. Ewald fell out of a tree (sound familiar?) when he was five years old and three decades on had a burning ache in his lower back and shooting pains in his legs.

He often woke with numb hands and he was aware of a constant "funny feeling" in his stomach. (Read more about his story on bodystressreleasesa.co.za)

Chiropractic treatments eased the pain but it was a chance meeting with Dr Richard van Rumpt, a retired chiropractor in the US, that put them on the path of listening to the body and using it as a biofeedback mechanism that would be self-healing.

Back in SA Gail and Ewald built on the body's feedback response to develop a way to target muscle stress and contraction, and the Body Stress Release technique was born.

Ewald believes the body protects itself from stress in a highly organised way. While it can adapt to the various stresses and strains of everyday life, such as falls, jerks, heavy lifting and bad posture, if the stress gets too severe the body suffers overload and "locks the stress into itself in lines of tension and contraction".

Types of stress

Mechanical stress - arising from bad posture, falls, physical injuries from accidents etc. 
Emotional stress - arising from relationship problems with family, friends or work colleagues, financial problems etc. 
Chemical stress - arising from food and drink, use of cosmetics or toiletries, taking medication or sensitivities to particular substances.

This tension, or body stress, leads to pain, numbness or stiffness and it also interferes with the body's self-healing defence mechanism.

The result is people feel tense, tired, lacking energy and suffer headaches, nerve pain, cramps, backaches and even indigestion. 

Read:12 stress signals your body gives you  

How does a Body Stress Release session work?

After explaining what BSR does, the practitioner will take notes on your medical history and general lifestyle, including any pain you are experiencing.

This helps to pinpoint areas where the tension may be stored. S/he will then ask you to climb onto the BSR bed, which is lowered and the gentle manipulation and monitoring begins.

You remain fully clothed, you can even keep your shoes on. In the book Self-healing with Body Stress Release by Gail Meggersee, the author explains how the practitioner "activates the biofeedback mechanism of the body by moving the feet in a very specific way in a procedure called 'the monitor".

The practitioner then does a series of body stress tests, pressing lightly on various points in specific directions along the spine. If there's body stress present at a site, this very slightly irritates the nervous system, which reacts with tiny withdrawal reflex.

The response lasts for several seconds, which allows the practitioner to carry out the "monitor" manoeuvre and observe a small, temporary shortening of one leg. If there's no stress at the site tested, Gail continues, there will be no muscular response.

Read: The physiology of stress

The technique is totally non-invasive, and one actually wonders what on earth the practitioner is doing making small little presses along your spine, arms and legs, also breastbone once you've turned over, but it certainly has an effect. The manipulations are made in precisely  the right spots to unlock the tension. 

After three session I had full mobility back in my left arm, and no pain radiating anywhere. Initially my lower back felt more painful than before, but that is apparently not unusual. A month later none of the pain or tingling has not returned. 

I did feel exhausted after the first session, and a little less so after the second, but by the third I walked out feeling refreshed and, as I said to Sarah, something has changed, but I'm not quite sure what.

I have been sleeping better, and a certain calmness has descended over me. I have accepted that I have to make some minor changes to prevent having to go back to Sarah time and again, and these include core strength exercises (to be done before I get out of bed in the morning, at a time when the muscles are still relaxed) and take note not to slouch whenever I'm sitting, also not in front of the TV on the couch. 

Image: How the patient is placed on the BSR bed before therapy starts. Photo from Bodystressrelease.nl Facebook

Who can benefit from BSR?

BSR works in people of all ages experiencing pain in the lower back, middle back, arms and legs, neck, legs and feet. It is also beneficial during pregnancy when there is a lot of pressure in the lower back.

Sarah says that she has enormous success with newborns and babies who carry stress soon after birth, especially in the neck and lower spine. It may be severe in traumatic births.

A baby that as pain or discomfort will cry, often constantly. If medical conditions have been ruled out its possible the baby has body stress which could be causing colic and restlessness.

The baby may squirm and cry when his hips are lifted during a nappy change, or there may be constipation or diarrhoea. (Read more on how babies and children can benefit from BSR.)

Not surprisingly, it also works in animals. Gail Meggersee relates how a BSR practitioner released tension in an aggressive horse that had been neglected and abused by its previous owners and was suffering from a lame front leg.

After a thorough session throughout the neck area, the horse walked normally a few days later.

Similar work has helped cats who refused to eat, dogs with flatulence, even a penguin who struggled to waddle.

Gail's book is full of anecdotal stories of the myriad niggles and illnesses that have improved through Body Stress Release.

Of the most impressive is how it has helped people with chronic migraines, a Tourette syndrome sufferer, epileptics and even a child with cerebral palsy.

By addressing the deep-rooted locked-in stress, people also are able to resolve issues such as ADHD, nailbiting, muscle wasting and exhaustion.

Image: Norah Duffet, a BSR practitioner from Langebaan on the West Coast of SA practices BSR on a patient at a mobile cinic in Phuket, Thailand. Image from Facebook. 


Where can you find a BSR practitioner?

If you live in the Cape Town area, you can contact Sarah Davies (pictured here) via her website.

BSR is now practiced in over 15 countries all over the world and is especially popular in Holland and Northern Ireland but is now also making inroads into Japan and Asia.

Every year dozens of students come to SA to learn how to become a practitioner.

Visit Bodystressrelease.com to find a practitioner in your area.

Read more:

Managing anxiety, stress and tension
7 of the best stretches
Progressive muscle relaxation
What is back pain?
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