Homo Sapiens of Stokus Newingtus: winter survival strategies:
How to keep smiling in February, despite it all:
It is at this time of year that I wonder what on earth me or anybody else is doing living at this latitude. Summer is a distant memory, Christmas has come and gone, and spring seems a very long way away indeed. There’s far too much night and far, far too little day. Hibernation would be a good idea. Get nice and fat, go to sleep in a hollow log and wake up when the days are getting longer and warmer, feeling skinny and very peckish. Alas this does not seem to be an option for us primates for various physiological and evolutionary reasons. Shame.
My comment about latitude is a serious one. We started walking upright in order to explore the African savannah as the forests contracted around four million years ago. The nice and warm African savannah, near the equator, where the days do not do all this unpleasant stretching and contracting, playing havoc with our pineal glands and diurnal rhythms. We evolved there, a region where the differences in daylight hours are minimal. It is only in the last 60,000 years or so that we pushed out of these areas, around the coasts into India, Southeast Asia and Australia. Also upwards into chilly Europe where we edged out the poor old Neanderthals. By the way, we should have left them to it: being stockier and tougher they were better suited to the climate.
I digress. Back to the point: we have spent the vast majority of our existence with an even spread of day and night throughout the year. The recent exposure of our species to the changes inherent in a London winter can cause us some struggles. For some individuals they can be severe: lack of energy, low mood, immune problems and stiff joints are all on the list that patients frequently mention to me.
The dog days of February are actually a very good time to do some Osteopathic work. Stiffness and strains that are more easily carried in the warmer months atrophy a little, sometimes causing aches and pains. The usual gamut of colds and small illnesses add to this, with their increasing of the body’s inflammatory response. In my practice where I predominantly use Cranial Osteopathic techniques there is other useful and interesting work to do.
A type of tissue that frequently presents itself for treatment is the fascia. This lovely, clever stuff [also known as connective tissue: it’s the whitish stuff in between the slabs of meat at the butchers] tells all sorts of stories about how someone is doing. Think of these expressions: butterflies in the stomach, heartache, heavy heart, lump in the throat. These are all physical sensations associated with changes in the tissue quality of our fascia. There is loads of it in the diaphragm, loads around the heart in the pericardial sling, also in the connections up through the anterior throat to the cranium. This is why we often feel sensations in these areas in response to what is going on for us. Fascia changes rapidly in response to our emotional environment, both good and bad, going through many physiological states.
On palpation fascia can feel heavy, stringy, glassy or plasticky when not doing so well. It can feel light, flexible and fluid when someone is happier. There can be all sorts of nuances of quality that words struggle to convey. Think of the silly language that wine experts use to describe subtleties of flavour and you will get an idea of how Osteopaths talk amongst themselves when describing fascia’s complexities. We love it.
Bearing all this in mind, it is possible to use Osteopathic techniques to treat and affect wellbeing using, as we always do, the body’s very own, very wonderful, self-corrective mechanisms. Even in this evolutionarily, physiologically and anatomically taxing time of year. So get yourself or your loved ones along if any of this strikes a chord. And roll on the spring. I can’t wait.