I’ve just finished reading Sue Hitzmann’s “The MELT Method”. This Method is a self-treatment system designed to ease chronic pain and diminish the signs of aging. Though I’ve only just found out about it, MELT has been around for a few years now, even offering MELT studios where you can attend classes and start MELTing on your own.
So just what is MELT? Well, MELT stands for Myofacial Energetic Length Technique, though it goes well beyond working just the myofacial (or soft tissues). Hitzmann, who herself holds a M.S in exercise science has, admitted that this method goes against the standard conventions held about improving physical health, not least of which being the mantra of “no pain no gain”. Hitzmann writes about how for many years she wrongly focused on strengthening the muscular system alone with aggressive exercise and weight lifting. She was regarded as one of the leading experts in the fitness field, so in demand that at one point in her career she would lead as many as 21 fitness classes a day at the gym where she was employed. It was during this time that she was stricken with an inexplicable and debilitating pain in her foot. The pain was so intense that she describes crawling to the bathroom in the night. Her colleagues in the fitness industry simply shrugged it away. They, having had it ground into their heads that pain was equivalent to progress, had simply come to accept muscular and joint pain as par for the course. There seemed to be an oddly ascetic undercurrent that dictated “If you want to look fit, you have to endure certain consequences, pain being one of them.” Never before has Hitzmann considered that her pain might be a warning from her body that something was amiss.
It was not until she attended a six day human cadaver workshop under the tutelage of theologian, *Rolfer, and anatomist Gil Hedley. Being well versed in the goings on of the body, this was not Hitzmann’s first rodeo. She had witnessed dissections before, but Hedley’s technique was quite different. Instead of cutting through layer upon layer of skin to get to the larger muscular and skeletal components to be found within, Hedley dissected the body layer by layer, revealing subtle nuances. One of these was the connective tissue system beneath the skin. While Hitzmann was familiar with connective tissue, she had never considered that it might be a system. Her prior education had lead her to believe that connective tissue was the equivalent to packaging peanuts in the body, just filler with no real purpose. It was in this workshop that Hitzmann was awakened to the idea that the connective tissue was a system, which helped maintain hydration and support the muscular skeletal system rather than just sat as an passive buffer. Soon after, MELT was born.
The MELT method seeks to help stimulate the connective tissue system, allowing it to more freely transport fluid and hydrate the body. Hitzmann describes it as a sponge, lying beneath the skin. When hydrated, the system is flexible, movements come easily, without pain from exertion. When the system becomes dehydrated, wrung out from the repetitive motions life demand, it becomes dry, inflexible, forcing the musculoskeletal system to carry its share of the burden and summoning pain and inflammation in response. Hitzmann likens the effect to wearing a pair of too tight jeans. Everything beneath becomes squished with movement, your body aches and is worn in ways it was never intend to be. What’s more, the simple act of drinking water may not be enough to rehydrate, as this system will forgo fluids when that which is made available is carrying toxins, say after one martini too many.
MELT is a gentle, painless method, employing soft rubber balls, and rollers to stimulate the connective tissue, increase bodily awareness and retune the nervous system. One of the blessings and curses of our bodies is that they are so well designed we can work through and adapt to pain we suffer. Unfortunately, pain is a sign that something is wrong with the body, a warning we should be heeding. Seeking relief, we take medication to dull our pain. Hitzmann offers the analogy of disconnecting the fire alarm in our kitchen because the toaster, every now and then, catches fire. The disconnected alarm prevents you from being annoyed by the warning, but in no way has it repaired the actual problem, a faulty toaster. Every MELT session begins with a body assessment, forcing you to concentrate on your body, the way it holds itself, what is and isn’t aligned. There’s a vaguely meditative aspect to this, which takes a little getting used to. Initially I felt nothing, but gradually I became aware of how my body distributed itself, where it rested heavier, or felt out of plumb.
The actual exercises themselves involve moving the body against rollers and balls in such a way that we release pressure from our compressed joints, rehydrate our connective tissue and slowly began to right ourselves on a very fundamental level. There are different techniques to be learned, gliding a limb vs. shearing, learning to breath in three dimensions, but all in all this is a tremendously soothing experience. Hitzmann reminds the reader that the balls and rollers are inanimate objects, they can’t hurt you, only you can hurt yourself with them. If at any time an exercise causes pain, Hitzmann advises reducing the pressure you apply, or lessening the time you sustain a movement. These exercises are meant to be performed slowly, thoughtfully, rushing through them brings no advantages.
I was pleased to see that towards the end of the book, Hitzmann creates what she calls MELT maps, or routines that can be used in conjunction with healing certain ailments (everything from post-partum pregnancy to active cancer.) She of course advises that you consult your physician before doing so. I am always deeply gratified to see fitness professionals offer modifications for the different demands of each individual body. This method is excellent for people with limited mobility, who find the rigors of aerobic or weights based exercise too exhaustive. While there is a lot of floor work involved, Hitzmann lets us know that these exercises can be performed against the wall if getting back up again might prove a problem. Overall, I’m very impressed with “The Melt Method” and the extensive amount of research it’s creator has put into each and every movement.
One drawback is that the excercises are best performed with specially designed rollers and balls available on the MELT website http://www.meltmethod.com Again, Hitzmann offers modifications, telling the reader that if they do not have a roller, they might use a rolled towel or yoga mat in it’s place. I myself have been using an old yoga mat, and supporting my neck with throw pillows from the couch. The balls can be substituted with small rubber balls available at your local toy store or even your kids’ toy chest (it’s communal, right?) I am interested in purchasing the official MELT equipment from their online store, https://www.meltmethod.com/store to see how great a difference it might make to my technique.
Though I’ve only just begun this process, I can say that I’ve experienced some fairly noticeable reduction in my neck and lower back pain. I sit for a good portion of the day, either painting, writing or working on the web, and these are the areas that take the brunt of my abuse. I’m actually able to move my neck to the full extent of motion on both sides, normally I have a difficult time doing this. I’ve also noticed that the constant sensation of my head being too heavy for my neck has decreased quite a bit. I’ve had this since junior high, being tall and with what I suppose must be an unusually long torso, it always seemed my head was too far from the top of my desk. I compensated by curling my neck down, and slumping over, rolling my spine so my body curled like a shrimp to focus on my classwork. Bad habits die hard and I gradually trained myself to become more and more rigid.
So far, I’m very happy with “The MELT Method” and invite you to give this book and the system it promotes a perusal. Even if it doesn’t work for you, the method is so gentle that you really don’t risk causing yourself any harm. Learn more about Sue Hitzmann and The Melt Method here: http://www.meltmethod.com/
*Rolfer: One who practices Rolfing, a massage technique which is aimed at the vertical realignment. Practitioners believe that this type of massage penetrates deeply enough to release muscular tension at skeletal level.