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What's going on when clients just can't let go—the times clients don't seem to be able to let their arm be heavy (above), relax their neck, or let you have the weight of their leg? As a practitioner, you feel this as stiffness or a jerky resistance to movement. But as a client, this not- letting-go might be hard to feel and, as a result, make it even harder to relax. Helping our clients be aware of this holding-on (and getting them to relax) is a skill even the most experienced practitioners can improve on. 98 m a s s a g e & b o d y w o r k j a n u a r y / f e b r u a r y 2 0 1 8 technique THE SOMATIC EDGE Inviting Relaxation By Til Luchau • Refining body awareness is key to getting lasting results from manual therapy. Simply being touched improves body awareness, but adding skillful questions, invitations, or pauses increases the intrinsic power of touch to enhance proprioception and the body sense. • Tonus habits can seem slow to shift, but the refinements to body awareness that good hands-on work can bring is a great start. Awareness-based "homework" exercises, such as those involving simply noticing and relaxing tense places in one's body, can bridge the on-table experience back into clients' everyday lives. Of course, the question of how to give homework that clients actually do is another topic, and one I hope to write about in a future column. • Chronic stress and other sources of sympathetic (fight-or-flight) arousal can cause muscle tightness and reactivity in several ways. Adrenaline, for example, can directly increase skeletal muscle contractibility. 4 The good news for your stressed clients is that hands-on work has a well-documented ability to reduce stress and its detrimental effects. 5 • Unconscious kinesthetic matching responses are important to consider as well. Everyday examples of this below-the- radar interpersonal body-matching include contagious yawns, coordinated body language, and mirror neuron phenomena. Specifically, if you're physically stiff or Helping clients allow their limbs to relax and be heavy isn't as elementary as it might seem. Since you can't relax what you can't feel, refining proprioceptive awareness is the first step. If stillness and support aren't enough to allow your client to feel and relax residual tonus (muscle contraction), sometimes gentle, rhythmic motion can help. Image courtesy This is not about structural, tissue- based stiffness. 1 Bodies vary in their tissue resilience and joint mobility. I'm referring here to the client's ability to sense and relax an at-rest muscle's residual muscle tension, or tonus. This contraction-based resistance to passive movement is regulated by the central nervous system and is normally a low level of motor neuron activity involved in posture, protection, and movement- readiness functions. 2 This background tonus is reduced during sleep and is even lower under anesthesia, but much higher under load or stress. 3 Subject to both voluntary and involuntary control, one of the main factors influencing our ability to relax unnecessary tonus is our proprioceptive sensitivity, or body awareness. When clients can't seem to let their body relax, here are some things to try:

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