Understanding Stress, and Tactics for Management with Matt Wilbow

Box Breathing Matt Wilbow Nasal Breathing Recovery Stress

I am so thrilled that Matt Wilbow has given up some time to us for a chat, he is hand on heart one of the best practitioners I have ever had the fortune to come across. Matty has been a major influence on my decision to upgrade my lifestyle and follow a career into wellness.  The quint-essential Aussie surfer Matt is a Myotherapist, holistic wellness, lifestyle and movement coach.  Matt Is the Founder and Operator of Seabody Myotherapy & Movement in Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast and is also a fitness facilitator and practitioner at Gwinganna. (Australia’s leading health and lifestyle retreat).  We focus on what my previous lifestyle looked like and the issues it was causing my health, because I think so many will identify with the pace and demands of the corporate lifestyle.  Matty provides some insights into what’s really happening with our bodies when we’re stressed and provides some simple recovery techniques.  And bear with us, it’s a long one, but there’s so much great advice, I just couldn’t reduce down. 

First up Matty, myotherapy seems to still be relatively unknown – what is it and what are the benefits of treatment?

Myotherapy is an evidence-based assessment and treatment of Musculoskeletal conditions, we use a variety of assessment techniques to identify movement impairment, injury or dysfunction.

A blend of manual therapy techniques are used to help reset the condition ranging from and not limited to, soft tissue, joint mobilisation, dry needling and intramuscular electro stimulation.

These short term reset techniques are reinforced with tailored exercise rehabilitation plans and lifestyle changes to promote an optimal environment of recovery for the patient.

I trained at a hardcore gym across the road from where Matt was practicing when he was based in Sydney. The gym’s philosophy was ‘train like an athlete’ – and I was certainly doing that.  In fact, I loved it so much I was over training, there at least 6 times a week, often doing double sessions.  But unlike an athlete I wasn’t taking the recovery my body needed.  I wasn’t supporting it with the right fuel, rest and vitamins that an athlete would.  I was also regularly working 12-hour days, eating lunch at my desk, and fueling myself in the evening with wine and crackers as I had no time to cook.  I was highly strung and on edge.  To de-stress I wanted to let my hait down and party at the weekends. Exhausted I went and started the next week in the same way…  week after week.  (Totally cringing writing this!) I was suffering from recurring injuries and my PT (another legend, Nic) recommended I see Matt from treatment. 

Matt, what can you describe you saw when I first started visiting you?

On your initial visit it was obvious to see you were totally overworked, burnt out and you were littered with inflammation and had breathing dysfunction (apical chest breathing.) You had poor nutritional and sleep patterns and overindulged in exercise and partying on a weekly basis. Your musculoskeletal complaints included diffuse back pain and bilateral hip pain with impingement. Upon further investigation, you had labral tears with cyst formation, and were littered with bursitis and tendonitis (inflammatory conditions) in numerous areas. Other health concerns were skin breakouts, inability to lose weight whilst training 6 days per week and consistently feeling tired with the inability to get a good night’s sleep.In my opinion, it was no doubt that the hectic pace of your stressful lifestyle was contributing to your ill health.

But what exactly is stress?  Stress is a non-specific response by your body to any demand for change, a disturbance of homeostasis or your internal equilibrium. While stress often carries a negative connotation, it can be both beneficial and detrimental to your health. For example, some positive examples of stress also known as ‘Eustress’ are exercise, intermittent fasting, small amounts of unprotected sun exposure and achievable work challenges and deadlines.

When in controlled doses, within our abilities and in realistic timeframes the above will cause our bodies to adapt to overcome the stimulus.  Nonetheless, when done in excess, uncontrolled doses or outside our capabilities it begins to put our bodies into distress which has a catabolic effect on our homeostasis.

Which brings us back to your situation; your lifestyle was putting you in a constant state of distress to which your body could no longer meet the demands and it was beginning to break down.

We have two sides to our nervous system; we have the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is activated by a stressful situation “to take fight or flight”, whereas the parasympathetic nervous system resets organ function of sympathetic reactions and allows us to “rest and digest.”

These two parts of our nervous system make up the Autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for automated tasks in example digestion, urination, salivation, pupil constriction, hormone secretion and heart rate variability.

When we expose ourselves to constant stress, we can get stuck in a loop which continually stimulates the sympathetic system, the body can then find it hard to re-enter the parasympathetic nervous system which is what we were seeing in your case. 

Research suggests that ongoing, chronic stress can cause or exacerbate many serious health concerns, including, chronic pain and pain syndromes, mental health disorders, heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. It also affects our reproductive system by causing menstrual problems, decreasing sex drive and increasing the risk of impotence and premature ejaculation in men.

Furthermore, our digestive system is more vulnerable to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other digestive issues. 

As bad as this all may seem, with the right approach it is possible re-enter homeostasis or as I call it, balancing the yin and yang. Initially we need to identify what are the primary drivers of stress affecting your health and put in management strategies to help lower the level of input, to get better we must change the environment in which you got ill.

If it’s a work deadline ask for more time or some assistance, if you’re vigorously training although feeling exhausted and in constant pain readjust your training threshold and work on some recovery techniques such as mobility, foam rolling, infrared saunas (good for inflammation and lymphatic flow), ice baths and nasal breathing techniques.

Make sure your nutrition and diet is in check and meeting your energy needs and cut out stimulants, drugs and alcohol. Drink clean filtered water and ensure adequate intake, a good baseline equation recommended by Paul Chek is your body weight in kg x 0.033 = litres of water to be consumed throughout the day.

Supplements can also be a good addition to aid recovery, when I’m run down from the pressures of everyday life my personal favourites include MSM, vitamin C, a good quality fish oil and some adaptogen herbs to help me reset (yes it does happen to me.) However, a naturopath will be better suited to give you personalised nutritional and supplement advice.

Other small hacks include removing all electronic devices from your bedroom, setting restrictions on smart phone use and not checking work emails and calls before bed or first thing upon waking the morning.

Simply listen to your body, if you’re tired try to rest. Get yourself out into nature, laugh with your loved ones, or simply lay down and watch the clouds pass by.

How do you weave in a holistic approach to what you do, and why is it so important?

I get an extensive history and use a range of Selective functional movement techniques to assess the body, looking for any movement deficits. I then use holistic advice and lifestyle adjustments, in conjunction with corrective exercise and manual therapy to help support whatever deficits the client may have and, when needed, inter-refer for collaborative treatment with other practitioners to provide the gold standard of multi-modality treatment. I believe a holistic approach to rehabilitation is important as the body is an ecosystem, we must stop treating it in isolation and start treating it as a whole.

For those of us currently in the northern hemisphere what is your advice on how to keep healthy and well, with a strong immune system now?

Down regulating the nervous system is the most important aspect in increasing immunity as stress is a major factor in lowered immune function.

Sleep and breathing techniques are paramount when working to down regulate the nervous system, so aiming for 8 hours of quality sleep per night is ideal. If you snore, wake with a dry mouth or sleep for long periods of time without feeling rested try taping your mouth shut. This simple technique sounds intense and slightly kinky (as my partner suggested who is now totally onboard) but by taping our mouth shut it assists us to nasal breathe all night, this is the easiest way to change a bad pattern and just by doing that we’ve changed your breathing for one third of the day.

Why is nasal breathing so important you ask? Nasal breathing unlocks Nitric oxide which is stored in large amounts in our paranasal sinuses, this precious gas is a vasodilator meaning it decreases blood pressure and improves blood flow to the organs. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, is anti-viral and is linked to strong increases in immune function. Furthermore, it promotes erectile function and normalizes hormonal responses in the body helping to regain control of our nervous system.

I have been doing this technique for quite a while and noticed huge differences in sleep quality. My sleep scores on my Oura ring have close to doubled and I wake feeling rejuvenated. For this technique, I use rocktape (a kinesiology tape) and put a strip across my mouth. I find the rocktape is less intrusive as it is composed of a combination of cotton and nylon so it is both stretchable and breathable, so you can still open your mouth and breathe through it if need be. There are also tapes specifically designed for this called Somnifix, however the rocktape is much more affordable and does the same job.

With any adhesive I advise trying it on your arm before your face to test for an allergic reaction.

I also recommend the daily use of box breathing techniques or slow rhythmic breathing exercises to stimulate the vagus nerve, there is an abundance of techniques out there, but I find box breathing is the easiest for my clients to remember.

Box breathing is a simple exercise and to try it get in a comfortable position in a stress-free environment. Keeping your body relaxed slowly exhale through your mouth, getting all the oxygen out of your lungs. Focus on this intention and be conscious of what you’re doing, I like to envision breathing out tension and bad energy.

Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four. In this step, count to four very slowly in your head. Feel the air fill your lungs, one section at a time, until your lungs are completely full, and your air abdomen expands out, during this step I envision breathing in love and positive energy. At the top of the inhale hold your breath and push the air into your abdomen and count for another four seconds.

This will complete one cycle, I use this technique daily for around ten minutes, however if it feels good do more and if its intense at first do less but be consistent.

Additionally, you can add Vitamin D, Vitamin C and Zinc to your diet, these have great scientific evidence supporting their role in increasing immune function, engage in regular exercise (not flogging yourself!), get plenty of sleep and eat a balanced diet consisting of wholefoods from an organic source.

Thank you so much Matty, you are such a brilliant source of information with the best advice!

If you are lucky enough to live on the Goldie in Oz, you should 100% get booked in to see him. (I know I will make the detour to when I’m next back on Aussie soil.)  You can find out more about what Matty can offer here:  www.seabodymyo.com.au

Otherwise just take those tips on board and get started on your breath work.  I’m going to report back on the mouth taping in due course...... 

Older Post Newer Post