How does tension collect in the body ? How is it affecting us? What can we do about it?

Tension often first shows up most obviously in the head, neck, jaw and shoulders – but also elsewhere.

Part of my job as a massage therapist is to help people lose tension held in the body, this in itself can leave some people looking transformed. Sometimes it is recently accumulated tension, relieved by letting go and relaxing; sometimes it is older more chronic tension, more solidified in bodily tissues that needed a more active intervention, sometimes something of both. Either way, releasing tension is good for us and holding tension in the body is not for a variety of reasons:

  • It feels unpleasant.
  • we feel contracted and tight.
  • It can restrict breathing.
  • Muscles feel gripped.
  • It can constrict blood flow though vessels, tissues and organs.
  • It can be at the seat of some body pain.
  • It can steal our energy (it takes energy to hold tension).
  • It can leave us anxious or depressed (though that is a chicken and egg story).
  • Chronic tension and stress can have more pernicious effects on our physiology which can damage our health ( a longer story beyond the scope of this article).

Here are some suggestions around what causes it and how we can learn to handle it.

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La Loire a Velo, Cycling the Loire Valley in France. A photo Essay.

This is not a wine or chateau guide in case you were wondering, I don’t drink so there’s not much point. In my early twenties I twice picked grapes in Aloxe-Corton, Burgundy, which was a wonderfully timeless experience and I drank more than enough of the local produce on that trip to satisfy my curiosities. I often thoroughly research my travels in advance, but this time I wanted to travel with as few a preconceptions as possible to see what I could see from as fresh as possible perspective. I do though know France fairly well, and buried deep in the architecture of my brain is French language ‘O’ level (age 16 language qualification in the UK) which when in France miraculously starts to re-surface after a few conversations. So beyond the logistics of getting to Lyon in S.E. France from Totnes in S.W. England (not insignificant: four trains, a ferry and an overnight stay) and mapping basics, I decided that language skills, the fact that it is a well marked popular route, the plentifulness and generally high standard of French campsites and it being summer ought to be enough to just go.

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Cycling the Rhine Valley: from the source in the Swiss Alps to the mouth in Holland. A Photo Essay.

In June 2022 I cycled from the source of the River Rhine in the Swiss Alps to the mouth at the Hook of Holland, 1378 km over 18 days. From the narrow, high energy, rushing white water alpine source to the steady, slow and powerful current meandering in lowlands, the river and this route has many stories to tell. The Rhine effortlessly combines multiple roles: as source of leisure with people swimming, cruising, floating and lazing around, as a more gritty industrial transport system, as a hydro-electro power source and as a place of nature conservation. It effortlessly criss-crosses national borders around Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Lichenstein, sometimes in the same day, wonders into France and then lazily oozes into Holland and the North Sea. I mostly followed the Euro Velo 15 route.

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A Very (Very) Short Introduction to the History and Philosophy of Yoga 

Is Yoga a practice or a philosophy?

At its heart Yoga is an experiential practice with its origins embedded in Indian Hindu/Buddhist culture. But, I personally know a wide diversity of people who identify as variously as Hindu, Humanist/Atheist, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim who have adopted Yoga’s core practices of asanas (postures), pranayama (breath practices) and meditation as they perceive them as compatible with their beliefs/reasoning and provide practice based experiential support to explore their worldviews or their health. This suggests to me that Yoga is primarily a practice/experiential based system that can help and support people from any number of backgrounds and cultures.

That said there is an underpinning philosophy (arguably universal beyond Yoga) which in simple form looks like this: we experience suffering and disharmony to varying degrees because we view life and relationships through the murky lens of our family and societal conditioning and potentially inherited tendencies ( whether viewed as genetic or karmic or a combination of both). Yoga practices help us unpick and cut through these knots of conditioning so we can wipe the lens clean, ‘see’ clearly, and so live in harmony and peace with ourselves and others. 

In essence philosophy gives us an approximate map to work from and reflect on, whilst practice and life is the actual territory. 

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Thai Market Culture. A Photo Essay.

This earth market (as some called it) was at the intersection of a busy highway flyover and junction, the Ping river and a slightly run down Buddhist temple. Not so glamorous, but a functional convenient spot for the local community.

Local markets are a great place to learn something about life in Thailand. Many of life’s daily mini dramas are on show and there’ll always be food. Year round warm weather overall creates the right conditions for lots of them, both permanent and temporary. Some pop up seemingly for a few hours on certain days as part of the rhythm of life here. From rustic local produce and clothing markets, to more high-end artisan markets through to tourist markets (often called walking street markets – a lot of crap but still some interesting gems to found), there is a lot to explore . You could easily never cook in Thailand (and some Thais don’t much) due to the availability of affordable tasty food at almost any market, but particularly at what are generally known as night markets. The possibilities for snacks and food in general are endless, multi-various and at times ingenious. When I stayed at a massage school in a fairly ordinary semi-rural part of Thailand (about half an hour from Chiang Mai), I decided to explore the local market on the two or three times a week that it was on to see what I could discover.

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Yoga in Chiang Mai, and how I got from practicing Gentle Yoga to Vinyasa Flow Yoga over 30 Years.

Khru Annie Bliss practicing on one of her retreats in Northern Thailand.

I’ve been practicing yoga for more than 30 years and have explored much of the full spectrum of practices available in that time. My development in practices of the asanas has in many ways been the wrong way round (compared to many people), moving from gentler slower forms of practice in my 30’s to more dynamic vinyasa flow practices as I’ve moved into my middle 50’s . Practicing in Chiang Mai in recent years, and with one teacher in particular, has been a big part of the reason for this.

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Cycling in Chiang Mai , The Buddhist Highway Code.

In Thailand some people like to go diving, zip wiring, sky diving , bungee jumping , bamboo white water rafting and more; but actually just cycling round the city of Chiang Mai and environs was quite an adventure. Plus it’s free, in fact more than free as it got me round without the use of Grab taxis (like Uber), red cars (public bus of sorts) or any other paid transport. ‘Wild Cycling’, if you like, with generally benevolent and courteous other road users, but a few predators to be understood and avoided, sharpened my senses as much as any expensive extreme sport. The roads may seem chaotic, even dangerous at times, but there is a learnable code in place (with random exceptions to watch out for).

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Sak Yant (Magical Tattooing in Thailand).

Three of the most important Sak Yant.

Sak (tattoo) Yant (yantra) is a form of tattooing found in Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos and is believed to have started during the Khmer Empire that covered this region from the 9th – 15th centuries. They are respresented by Buddhist, Hindu and Animist iconography and symbology and are applied with a long lance like needle ( that was traditionally bamboo but is now more often steel) . Traditionally they are given by Buddhist monks, ex monks or Reusi (hermit scholars and protectors of traditional arts/sciences such as traditional medicine, meditation, Sak Yant, alchemy, palmistry, astrology and more). In simple terms Sak Yant are spells put on the body and most people get them to attract what they do want and protect against what they don’t want. I’ve always liked the designs but never thought I would get one , but given that this trip was during a transitional point of my life I decided to explore getting one.

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Buddhism in Thailand. As viewed through the lens of Wat Pha Lad, Chiang Mai.

One of the shrine rooms at Wat Pha Lad.

Buddhism is infused into much of life in Thailand. It blends seamlessly with elements of Hinduism, also imported from India, and pre existing animism . Features of this are found in many facets of life: from the rarified meditative atmosphere of a forest temple, to taxi drivers hanging Buddhist charms from the rear view mirror, people visiting temples seeking luck over a particular issue or to receive a blessing, monks doing the alms round in the early morning, to karmic merit making activities such as buying a caged bird from the pet shop and releasing it. It helps explain a lot of people’s behaviour, their underlying intentions and attitudes and probably the generally harmonious flavour of life in much of Thailand. My own interest in Buddhism over 30 years has been less religious environments and rituals and more that the philosophy and psychology made sense, meditation ‘worked’ and life flowed more smoothly when I followed and practiced it . However in Thailand, now and again a temple environment or some such would touch me in a wordlessly powerful way. One such place was Wat Phra Lad near Chiang Mai with its magical setting in mountain forest and surrounding waterfalls.

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Muay Thai. A brief experience in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

‘Backstage’ at Tha Phae Stadium , Chiang Mai.

The one previous Muay Thai fight I had seen was in Bangkok at the old Lumphini stadium sometime in the 1990’s . I was in my 20’s, somewhat hippyfied and not too interested in the idea of seeing it; but two women from Leeds (UK) in my hostel said ‘we luv a good fight, cum with us, you’ll luv it’ . Inside the old three tiered stadium I did kind of enjoy it in a watching gladiators in a bear pit sort of way, though a sharp knee to the head knock out did cause me to wince a bit. I thought nothing more of it until my youngest son aged 19 started training in it four times a week in the UK . Of all the things to choose, not really what I had in mind for my small cuddly child when he was younger. So while in Thailand his interest led me to investigate a bit more at Chiang Mai gyms and at the Tha Phae Stadium in Chiang Mai.

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