Before we discuss the armour suit, I want you to stand up. Stand up and close your eyes and get in a relaxed posture. Then come back.
Were you really relaxed? Where is your weight? Is it on the balls of your feet or on your heels? Is your neck tight or your shoulders?
If you aren't relaxed, that is your armour suit.
I am going to a massage therapist who has trained in massage and orthopedic massage.
He doesn't do massage.
At least, he doesn't do what I think of as massage.
On my first visit he had me stand relaxed. I did my best, but after family deaths and all, relaxed was a theory, not something that I could do.
"You are standing with your knees locked and your toes holding on to the floor."
I instantly lifted up my toes and wanted to say "Am not!" But I was. Physical guilt. Caught in the act. Here I am a primary care doctor and I can't even fix myself.
I picked him for massage for four reasons:
1. He's a singer too.
2. I heard him talking about muscles at a choral meeting.
3. The way he moves. Easily. Motion with joy.
4. I was hurting and I thought, to hell with talk therapy. Let's try something else. Let's try body therapy instead.
He loaned me a book by Thomas Hanna called Somatics. It talks about sensory-motor amnesia. The therapy that he is doing is related to this, but he's found his own theory.
He calls it the Armour Suit.
He thinks that as people get older and go through trauma, emotional, physical, whatever, some of this is stored in the body. The muscles tighten, particularly the slow twitch muscles. The stabilizer muscles. We forget how to relax them.
It doesn't even have to be trauma. It can just be the daily wear and tear of life.
Thomas Hanna thinks that the armour suit is from two reflex postures: a withdrawal reflex and an action reflex. The stabilizer muscles get tight and "forget" how to relax.
I lie on the table face down under the sheet, press a button that I'm ready and he comes in. He puts his hands on my back and hips. The first time, he tried to rock my hips a bit and they wouldn't move. Now he laughs and says that they are growling: I'm NOT going to move.
He finds a muscle and presses on it. I'm not to let the pain get higher than 4/10. Sometimes they hurt and sometimes they are just tight. He holds the muscle and I am instructed to move: move my right leg to my right: and hold for a slow count of 10. The muscle tightens. Slowly release.
My range of motion then changes and the muscle relaxes.
Sometimes he will tell me to move my leg in a way that I have great difficulty doing. I have trouble isolating the muscle. When he started working on my shoulders, I was lying face down. He said, "Lift your right shoulder up." I did. "Not your elbow." I tried. I was having trouble moving just the shoulder blade without moving the shoulder and elbow as a unit. I have to really concentrate to relax enough to let him move me and to move just the shoulder.
It's getting better. I am going in every two weeks. The armour suit is still there, but it releases more and more easily. He keeps working on new pieces.
Last time he said that my shoulder blades move more than any of his other patients. In most people that he sees they are fused to the back muscles. I knew that I was a physical mess when I went in, but if all his other people are worse than me in the shoulders, that's pretty appalling.
I'm already messing with this armour suit idea in my clinic. I am not nearly as good at isolating muscles, knowing which movement will tighten them for 10 seconds, I don't have a massage table. But on Friday I had someone with foot pain. I had him walk barefoot. He said, "I'm walking on my toes. It's like I don't use my heels at all."
I gave him the assignment that I had for the first two weeks. Practice standing with weight distributed in three places on the feet: heel, first metatarsal, fifth metatarsal. Lift up your toes. Bend your knees and don't lock them. I felt so off balance for two weeks. Then walk with toes lifted. The toes are for balance. They do not need to hold on to the floor.
Two days ago I hiked with my aunt and uncle. We climbed Mount Walker. In two miles it goes from 800 feet to 2800. Switchbacks. Coming down was trickier because our legs were complaining. I tried to walk the whole 2 miles: toes up, heel touching first, foot rocks forward with the weight distributed across the metatarsals, not just on on my great toe metatarsal.
We walked about 3.5 miles on the beach yesterday.
I am learning to walk. I am slowly shedding my armour suit. I am learning to relax.
Next I need more massage therapists who don't do massage. I look around, and many many people are wearing armour suits.