Running the Big Five

Body Stress Release


Our bodies are constantly subjected to different stresses. Long working hours, too many late nights and hard training sessions place high demands on our bodies. Often the stress becomes stored in our physical structure, causing ailments such as muscle spasms, headaches and lower back pain. All of these things ultimately affect our sporting performance. Having this body stress released can enhance your quality of life – and benefit your running.

Body stress occurs when the body fails to adapt to an overload of stress, and tension becomes stored in physical structures causing pain and discomfort. This stored tension has an impact on the nervous system and undermines the body’s natural ability to co-ordinate its functions and heal and maintain itself.

“Many people have more stress in their bodies than what they are aware of. Tension and stress don’t always manifest as pain. Not being in pain is not a defi nition of health. Complete health comes from functioning 100% mentally, emotionally and physically,” says Rory Litchfi eld, a Body Stress Release (BSR) practitioner in Greenside, Johannesburg. Rory, who has treated many top athletes, has been a practitioner for five years and became involved in BSR after experiencing the benefits of it himself.

He describes BSR as a complementary health technique based on helping people deal with the physical effects of stress. It helps the body heal itself by releasing stored tension. This technique was the brainchild of Ewald and Gail Meggersee, two South African chiropractors who researched stress extensively. Though the technique has been around since 1981, most people still don’t know enough about it, says Rory.

Our bodies are wonderfully-made machines with miraculous self-healing abilities. Think of cutting  yourself; you stick a plaster on it, but ultimately it is the body that heals the cut. Our bodies can perform optimally if we respect them. When doing sport, we need to listen closely to our bodies as they are constantly subjected to different kinds of stresses:

  • MECHANICAL OR PHYSICAL STRESS: Everyone has different points of stress overload and when that point is reached, the body will automatically start to protect itself by tightening the muscles over the area of stress, effectively splinting the involved joint. In this way stress can become stored in the physical structure. Take overtraining as an example, explains Rory’s colleague, Brent Garvie. It may often result in more stress than the body can adapt to and this stress may then become stored in the body. Brent says that most injuries are not the result of sudden catastrophes, but occur because of what is popularly known as ’overuse’, which means that a key part of the body simply can’t stand up to the pressures of training and competition without breaking down.

  • EMOTIONAL OR MENTAL STRESS: Competitive sport can lead to emotional or mental stress, often induced by competitiveness and the pressure to perform or win at all costs.

  • CHEMICAL STRESS: Chemical stress can be caused by dehydration and over-hydration, as well as environmental pollutants such as car fumes.


  • A BSR practitioner can help anyone, from babies to office workers, and can help athletes perform optimally. A release of stressed muscles provides new energy.

  • When muscles are protectively splinted over an area of lockedin stress, it takes tremendous energy from the body to keep those muscles in their protective state, energy that should be
    available to help improve performance.

  • BSR leads to improved fl exibility. Brent tells of a fellow BSR practitioner who had a client complaining of tight hamstrings. He did repeated toe-touching exercises to stretch his tight
    hamstrings. But those exercises were stressing his lower back even further, causing irritation to the nerves flowing from his lower back into his legs. After a BSR session and stopping all toe-touching exercises, he was back on the road with no fl exibility problems.

Physiotherapists are effective at treating torn or strained muscles while chiropractors manipulate the skeletal system. “Body Stress Release Practitioners are trained to specifi cally locate sites of stress and release the stress in order to help prevent injuries. It is thus corrective and preventative in nature.” Rory emphasises that BSR is not a medical treatment or an alternative therapy. “We do not diagnose anyone. It is a 100% complementary therapy and preventative in nature.”

I went to Rory for two sessions to experience BSR. I have no running injuries, only a persistent shoulder muscle spasm I have learnt to live with. The first session lasted about 25 minutes. You stay fully clothed while lying on a specially designed bed that looks like the bed chiropractors use. You stand against it
and are lowered onto it.

Rory located the exact areas where my body was exhibiting signs of stress by using my body as a biofeedback mechanism monitor. He applied light but defi nite pressure to the sites of body stress, thereby activating the body to release the stress. He kept checking my feet and marking certain spots on my back, explaining that he uses the feet as a biofeedback monitor.

He explained that applying light pressure to certain muscle groups close to the spine creates a temporary nervous system irritation, which creates a temporary leg reflex response. “When I test for a site of stress, your one leg will temporarily shorten in relation to the other. That is a muscular response and it shows
me in which direction the muscles are pulling and where the stress is located. I use light pressure in a specific direction on those muscles. That pressure encourages the muscle to release stress layer by layer, creating an unmasking effect. Because I am stimulating the muscle to relax, it almost peels the layers of tension off.”

The pressure along my spine, legs, neck, head, buttocks and shoulders was very light, so when Rory
warned me that I might be sore the next day, I had my doubts. But by that afternoon I was indeed sore; my muscles felt like they would after a hard gym workout. By the next morning I was fine and my muscle
spasm felt much better, especially while running. My second session followed the same process. In the days following, though the spasm was not completely gone, it felt much better during training.

It differs with each person as to how long it will take to release the tension and how long it will last, depending on your lifestyle, explains Rory. Generally you should start feeling better after three sessions over a ten-day to twoweek period. It is recommended that you go for follow-up sessions. “Remember, you personally have to take responsibility for your lifestyle and make certain changes,” says Rory.