our bodies, grief, and healing

Today's post is an interview with my chiropractor, Dr. Jenny Dubisar. I have felt that my pregnancy with Ferdinand brought me in touch with much beauty and grace, and Jenny is one of those graceful gems. She is the sweetest soul ever, I am so lucky to have met her and be in her care.

She has answered the interview questions in great detail, even when I gave her such little time and at a time when her schedule is choked full. She has really put her heart into the answers, you will find grace and compassion sparling and glittering throughout her answers.

Jenny practises a type of chiropractic technique known as Network Spinal Analysis, or Networking. It is different from the traditional chiro technique, so much more gentler and relaxing. Jenny explains beautifully about her work and the relation between grief and chiropractic health. I am deeply thankful for the time she took to explain and share.


How is networking different from other chiropractic techniques?

All Chiropractic techniques are about keeping the information/connection between the body and the brain clear. Since the nervous system is the pathway by which the communication occurs, any interference along this pathway has the potential to disrupt, disconnect, or delay the vital communication needed to heal or maintain the body.

Traditional chiropractic takes interference off of the nervous system by correcting subluxations (misalignment of the spinal bones), and there are many different techniques used to accomplish this; however, most use some form of structural adjustment that makes a snap-crackle-pop sound.

Network Spinal Analysis (ie Network) is a non-traditional chiropractic technique. It is considered non-traditional in that Network first unwinds the soft tissue that surrounds the central nervous system (the spinal cord) and the soft tissue attachments to the spine. It addresses core body tension (caused by physical, chemical or emotional stress) that can create interference, subluxations, compound chronic misaglignments, and/or hyperstimulate the nervous system. Network uses very gentle contacts along the spine (usually in the neck and sacrum) to unwind and open up the breath (which also helps the spinal column receive oxygen and nutrients). Some Network practitioners use structural correction also, but usually only once the body has released enough tension for the adjustment to be less invasive and more productive for the body.

Many times, the simple understanding that we will not be popping necks and backs helps people feel more comfortable with going to a chiropractor initially. Especially when a person is grieving, the thought of being “popped” is often too harsh, too invasive. Network allows us to access a person’s health gently, with respect, and only in those areas of the spine that are receptive.


How does stress in a person manifest in a chiropractic system?

There are three primary “stressors” that can cause significant changes to occur in the body and thus affect our health:

  • Physical stress (physical trauma, car accidents, posture)
  • Chemical stress (diet, preservatives, medications, dehydration, hormones)
  • Emotional stress (which affects both the physical and chemical makeup of the body - emotions will affect a variety of hormonal and postural changes to occur, and hormones produced in certain quantities will affect the tone of our muscles)

Stress activates the production of cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones), also known as the fight or flight response pattern. Cortisol also hinders the function of serotonin (a “happy” hormone). Prolonged adrenaline and cortisol levels decrease the ability of your immune system to respond quickly.

If you sit in your chair there, and tuck your tailbone up, roll your shoulders inward, tuck your chin down... can you feel the physical stress in your body? Can you feel the shallow breathing? This is referred to as the fight or flight syndrome, or the sympathetic response pattern, and is a (slight) exaggeration of how our bodies react to stress. This is a typical pattern we adopt when we are feeling “stressed”, or grieving. It is a natural position to protect our hearts, but puts a lot of strain and tension on our bodies.

Physiologically, our body cannot heal properly while we are in the sympathetic fight/flight patterns. The fight/flight pattern should be reserved for the temporary physiological event of escaping from harm. Blood rushes away from the internal organs, and into the arms and legs, and there is an increase in hormones that provide extra temporary energy. However, if we stay in the fight/flight pattern consistently, our body doesn’t slide back into the parasympathetic (ie rest/relaxation) pattern. Sleep is where our body heals. Rest is where our body digests and absorbs nutrients from our food. Relaxation is when blood and nutrients go to our internal organs for their functioning. 


How can grief affect a patient's chiropractic health? and how does their chiropractic health then affect their health in general?

Chiropractic health and general health share the same nervous system pathways that transmit the electrical impulses carrying the messages to every cell, every tissue, every organ in our bodies to do what it is that it needs to do, when it needs to do it. These electrical impulses are what carries the information to keep us healthy, and what provides the information to our cells and organs to help us heal.

Grief is an emotional and chemical stressor, but affects the physical aspect as well. Compound the societal fight/flight patterns with grieving, and you have an overwhelmed body that is simply going to experience a greater challenge to stay healthy.

Does stress from bereavement differ from normal daily stress?

Yes. Bereavement has the added components of depression (which are composed of more chemically-charged hormones), and a deep fatigue that goes far beyond normal fatigue experienced from stress. Because of these additional components, the majority of care in the Network modality will be focused on decreasing the overwhelm. In essence, simplifying the transmission of the incoming messages. We’ve all had days where we are bombarded by messages, emails, phone calls, mail, etc. Having someone come in and take out the “junk” messages simplifies for us what we have left, and we can focus more clearly on what does require our attention.

With daily stress, I explain to my clients that our care helps sift out the old programs that are still running in the background and freeing up that energy and usable space for more efficient and productive tasks.

With bereavement, it is more like re-focusing the healing on areas that CAN be addressed, or areas that NEED to be addressed immediately and putting aside areas that still need time before they can or should be addressed. Grief is a process. Network care does not take out any of the process... it simply helps the innate intelligence of our body support our health while we get through it.

Do you think physical treatment is an important part to healing from grief? How so?

I believe that when we are grieving, we forget to take care of our physical needs. When we stop caring to take care of ourselves, our bodies suffer. Carolyn Myss writes about how our biography (our personal story) shows up in our biology (our physical expression). Especially when we are grieving, our bodies are not only experiencing the emotional overwhelm of our pain, but also the chemical changes (increased stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline), and the physical changes of our postures, activities, and (lack of) sleep. This then creates a less-than-ideal environment for our immune system to protect us, and we get sick easier and are more prone to disease.

I also believe that when we take care of the physical aspect of our bodies while grieving, we are providing strength and energy to support the grieving process. It’s about how much you can expect your body to juggle and to still be able to function. By providing for the physical aspect of health, the mental and emotional components are then able to be put first.


Has a mother return to you after she has suffered the death of her baby? How can networking help her then? Can you explain the specifics?

This is a difficult area to discuss. There have been two deaths of babies in the past 4 years of my practice. It is never easy to discuss with a mother how some gentle Network care could help, because during grief, our perceptions of the world around us shrink, and all we are aware of is our own world of hurt. I am not comfortable telling anyone that receiving our care will help them... because it is a very personal thing. The care I provide in my office has tremendous benefits... but it doesn’t work for everyone.

I am also not saying that providing Network care is going to take away the grieving, or in any way shorten the duration. Yet, allowing her body that small bit of time to open up, to breathe, to not hold it all inside...I believe that this provides a small window of healing in an otherwise closed system. I believe that it is important to accept whatever support can be offered; because there is so much that others cannot do for you.


Do you consider yourself mentally or emotionally or even spiritually involved when working on your patients?

There is a delicate balance in my work. I need to give myself over to listening to my clients bodies. Sometimes this is a mental thing as I am analyzing, assessing, and determining how to best proceed. Sometimes, especially with grief, I am simply able to be an emotional anchor because my work is going to stay very simple and very basic, but it can be very intense for me to maintain that anchor and hold that safe space for my client. Since I am working with the subtle cues of the body (tone, breath), I have to be very in tune to my own body; this can also provide a spiritual-like connection.

Anyone one who has worked in the healing fields has understood that whenever we help ourselves or others heal, there is a spiritual component. It is in our nature as humans to nurture others, and is one of our greatest gifts. The Latin translation of doctor is simply, Teacher. I believe that teaching people they have the healing within themselves not only empowers them to take responsibility for their own health, but promotes trust in their own bodies...even when that trust seems to have failed.

I simply facilitate the body in healing itself. Our bodies have an amazing ability to heal and an innate knowledge of how to do it. What I can add to the equation is the space and the ease for the body to get out of the fight/flight response pattern in order for the healing to occur. 


Have you helped a patient in grief heal through networking? Can you elaborate?

I have helped others while they have been grieving. It isn’t easy, on either of us. I have not been able to help the grieving mothers that I have known... perhaps it is due to my inability to communicate effectively, or maybe it is because it simply hasn’t been right for them to receive the care. However, I have worked with others in the grieving process: healing while dealing with cancer, healing from the death of a beloved parent or friend, healing from broken hearts. Grief for whatever reason is still grief. The depth may be different, and the length of time may be different, but it is still a process that the body and mind must go through in order to heal.

Is it sometimes painful to allow that vulnerability when the feelings are still so raw? Of course. Do people who are grieving sometimes cry during their sessions from the full feeling of their grief? Absolutely, and that is ok. It’s more about holding the space for them than anything else.

 (I wish to clarify that I did go back to Jenny for five sessions after Ferdinand died, and they were on the house -- her gift to me. I did not continue with the care not because she was inadequate in any way, but because I was too fragile to go outside. I was too crumble-fragile, but I remain forever grateful for her offers and what she has done for me.)


If you have ever help a bereaved through to a time when her chiropractic (or overall) health is restored, how long did it take?

There is no set time. It depends upon so many factors. Is there sufficient emotional support? Is there an optimal diet with healing, healthy foods? Is the person receiving the rest that their body needs? Are there chemicals or medications involved that may necessary, but nevertheless adding chemical stress to the body? Does the person have some sort of spiritual practice to help them deal with the loss? Does the person have some sort of process to work through their emotions? There are also going to be dark valleys encountered along the way. This is a part of the process and shouldn’t be seen as regressions, but as part of the journey. My care is simply to facilitate the process.

Any other thoughts on physical healing?

Only that our bodies are amazing, and our spirits are strong. Bad things happen, and we may blame our bodies for failing us... but our spirits need our bodies to house them~ without our bodies, where would we live? And in the end, I have to trust that our innate intelligence does have access to the infinite wisdom of the universe. It is not necessarily my place to know the how or why of it.

This post is a part of The Body Shop at Glow in the Woods -- a month of themed reflections and memes that explore what we do in an effort to occupy these physical selves with grace after babyloss.