Get your fascia fixed

A MELT workshop on Martha’s Vineyard.

People doing 3D Breath during a class in San Diego taught by Sue Hitzman. Courtesy MELT Method.

*Updated Nov. 9, 10:30 am.

As with many others, Chilmark resident (and Times Chilmark columnist) Valerie Sonnenthal’s life was plagued by chronic pain. She had a viral infection of her nervous system at age 17, causing foot issues and neuropathy, and her active life had been compromised every since. She tried everything from doctors to chiropractors to yoga and Pilates, but nothing worked — until she found “The MELT Method.

MELT stands for Myofascial Energetic Length Technique and it focuses on the body’s fascia, or connective muscle tissue, as a means of eliminating long-term chronic pain. Whether it’s from a sore muscle, aching joint, or Lyme disease, lifetimes can be spent trying to manage pain. MELT offers a way out, and Ms. Sonnenthal swears by it, so she’s been offering workshops on Martha’s Vineyard for locals and visitors. The next one is on Nov. 14, at Howes House in West Tisbury, from 1:30 to 2:30 pm.

The MELT Method was founded by New York-based therapist Sue Hitzmann in 2013.

“I come from a background where no one taught me how to reset my body and move energetically,” Ms. Sonnenthal said, “Everything is in the book. These are the tools that help us enjoy our bodies and keep us out of chronic pain.”

According to Ms. Sonnenthal, no matter how obscure your problem, chances are it’s listed in “The MELT Method.”

“It’s rare to not find your condition in the back of the book,” she said, “And you can start right away. Sue uses language that’s so concise and accessible. You’ll have exercises to follow for at least six weeks.”

In addition to the book, The MELT Method offers a few other MELT-specific tools that add to the art of this new self-care. The Hand & Foot Treatment Kit includes eight treatment balls, one bunion band, and two instruction guides. There’s also a soft foam roller and step-by-step DVDs. Ms. Sonnenthal recommends all of them.

“If you’re dealing with specific issues, I haven’t found better work in terms of proactive self-care,” Ms. Sonnenthal said.

Ms. Sonnenthal is a certified MELT therapist, and periodically offers hour-long MELT introductory classes at Howes House in West Tisbury and free workshops at the Oak Bluffs library. According to Ms. Sonnenthal, MELT sessions always begin with an assessment.

She instructed a group that recently gathered at Howes House to bring their elbows together to notice where they touch and how their wrists aligned. A squeezing exercise followed where each person observed how their hand muscles flexed around a ball every time they applied pressure. She advised everyone to notice the difference between hands and take note of where there was any discomfort.

The session continued with re-hydration. Each person had a numbered hand and foot map to follow that highlighted a pressure point. In this first re-hydration exercise, Ms. Sonnenthal instructed everyone to place the ball under the first numbered pressure point of the hand, take a deep breath, relax the hand, and exhale while pressing down. This continued for each numbered pressure point on both hands and feet, and took on a few variations.

“It’s a bit like a sponge,” Ms. Sonnenthal said, “each time we press, we’re releasing anything that’s built up, and allowing fluids to move around.”

After re-hydration came a rinse. Each person started with the ball under the tip of a finger, and rolled it through the middle of the hand, and as far up the wrist as they could go.

“We’re pushing the fluids one direction up the arm,” she said. “Everything we’re doing is about moving the fluids.”  

According to Ms. Hitzmann, our connective tissue is a fluid-filled system that regulates and stabilizes all muscles and internal organs in the body. When the system becomes dehydrated, which happens with age, movement and sedentary behaviors, it can create what Ms. Hitzmann refers to as “stuck stress.” This can be the underlying cause to a number of chronic issues, and it’s why fluid movement and rehydration is so crucial.

Ms. Sonnenthal transitioned the group to sequences that focused on the back. According to Ms. Hitzmann, we have three places where we store the most stress in our bodies: the diaphragm, shoulders, and pelvis. Each MELT exercise targets these core areas among others.

“When we do our hands, our shoulders and neck are releasing. When we do our back, our diaphragm and pelvis are releasing,” she said. “Everything is connected.”

Everyone lay flat on their backs, and Ms. Sonnenthal offered assessment — ways to notice where the shoulder blades fell, how the hipbones lifted, and where the lower back started to curve. Any signs of digging, heaviness, or unevenness were signs of stuck stress. After the back assessment, it was time for rebalancing.

Everyone grabbed a roller and placed it along their spine, lying over it. Ms. Sonnenthal told

everyone to gently rock back and forth, and try various pelvic tucks, tilts, and shoulder opening exercises. After the rebalance sequence, a quick re-assessment proved that everyone’s bodies lay flatter on the ground, their elbows rested closer together, and their wrists aligned more easily.

“The results happen quickly,” Ms. Sonnenthal said. “When we’re taught to use assessments and reassessments, we begin to have a different relationship with our body.”

According to Ms. Sonnenthal, until about 20 years ago, fascia was a long-neglected aspect of human anatomy. “It was considered the ‘packing material’ of the body,” she said. Now, with the help of Ms. Hitzmann’s work, the science of fascia has entered early stages of research.

In countries in Europe, people are already working with fascia as a means of surgery prep. “When you’re healing from surgery, a lot of the pain is in the fascia,” Ms. Sonnenthal said. “Think about how much faster you’d heal if some of that pain is alleviated beforehand. That’s what people are working on over there.” It hasn’t hit the U.S. yet, according to Ms. Sonnenthal.

The MELT Method isn’t meant to take up more than 10 minutes of your day and it’s for anyone, anywhere, at any time.

“I can do a hand treatment for a couple minutes on a plane, or standing in line, or waiting in the back of a room,” Ms. Sonnenthal said, “It’s just become really easy for you to help yourself.”

Ms. Sonnenthal is offering MELT method classes at Howes House in West Tisbury from 1 to 2 pm on *Nov. 28. She’s also offering a 1:30 to 2:30 pm class on Nov. 14. Classes are $15 each. Contact Valerie Sonnenthal at 508-693-2896 for more information.

*Article previously stated there would be a class on Nov. 21, which has been canceled.