Stress Relief Toolkit

Woman kicking a Body Opponent Bag

Your Stress Relief Toolkit: Kickboxing

April Heath

06/07/2024

Image Credit: Photo 166651937 © Anekoho | Dreamstime.com

I’d write a typical article in honor of National Stress Awareness Month, but I find this true story best illustrates my point. Kickboxing is fantastic for stress relief and belongs in a stress relief toolkit.

I had a young man – I’ll call him Alex – on my massage table and he had a knot the size of a walnut in his transverse trapezius. As soon as I palpated it, my heart went out to him. I could tell a lot from that knot.

“You’re too young for a knot like that,” I said, stroking into it with my thumb. “That knot comes from many years of frustration.”

Alex let out a certain kind of breath, signaling to me that I was probably the first person to acknowledge and understand. “You have no idea,” he said. “What can I do about it?”

I applied some deep, static pressure to the knotted muscle. “There’s actually quite a bit. Massage, of course, is helpful.”

He chuckled.

What can I say? I’m a massage therapist and believe in what I do. “But there’s more.”

“Where do knots like mine even come from?” Alex asked.

My turn for a deep breath. “Thousands of years ago, humans lived in the wild. Every movement in the bushes was a potential threat. If we were in the forest and sensed something, we’d naturally freeze and tense our shoulders, drawing all of our energy and attention to our senses. Do we see, hear, or smell something that could eat us? The intersection of neck and shoulders is what I call the Crossroads of Mind and Body. There are tons of nerves crossing paths and crossing signals there.” I kneaded his neck. “But we don’t live in the woods anymore. We’re in school, at the mall, at work. Nothing is threatening our lives, but we have the same physiological reactions.”

“Makes sense,” he said, still face down, loosening up degree by degree.

“It’s also the way humans are built. Repetitive stress injuries are common, simply because muscles only pull. We do everything with our hands in front of us because that’s where we see what we’re doing. Since muscles only pull, when our shoulders are rolled forward, it’s not because they’re being pushed from behind. They’re being pulled by the pectoralis muscles. The body is a system of ropes and pulleys, basically. It’s like if there were only one-way streets in a city, and you had to find your way around without ever going in reverse. No one ever addresses their pecs, so they never get stretched. They never relax.”

“Oh, my God,” he said. “So what do I do?”

“Well, that knot tells me you’re constantly in fight-or-flight, so I recommend kickboxing.”

“What?”

“Kickboxing. When the brain signals fight-or-flight and we don’t fight or run, those stress chemicals just sit around the body, wreaking havoc. First, you have to metabolize the cortisol in your system. That’s the stress hormone. Run, punch, kick, shake it out, whatever. Do something physical. Set the intention that you’re going to rid yourself of unnecessary tension and do it. Just spend yourself up until you’re exhausted. Bear in mind, it’s important that your punches and kicks land on some inanimate target though so the energy actually transfers out of your body. It’ll be the best stress relief you’ve ever had in your life.”

“Really?”

I massaged his back with my forearm. “Absolutely. Once you get a handle on getting rid of the physical effects of stress, you can ask your primary doctor about talk therapy. A good goal is to learn how to face stress to the point that situations that stress you out no longer have any effect on you.”

That’s a goal he got behind. I’d love to say I know the satisfying conclusion of his efforts at self-care, but it was a hotel spa and I never saw him again. I imagine he returned to college, signed up for kickboxing, and knocked the stuffing out of a Body Opponent Bag.

I relate this story to convey this: frustration is a derivative of anger, which is a primary emotion. We will be in situations that call for anger. Some situations are frustrating. Mostly, we just need to learn patience and how to solve problems without beating ourselves up. 

In the meantime, sign up for the best stress relief of your life. Visit your local kickboxing studio. If you’re in the Hollywood, FL area, check out CKO Kickboxing.

Special offer. Video credit: April Heath LMT

Ask for Marie or Chris at CKO Kickboxing Hollywood and let them know I sent you. (954) 362-4459.

You’ll only look silly there if you’re not kicking. It’ll leave you feeling unburdened and freer. 

AprilHeathLMT@gmail.com 

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