These thoughts are a collection of the lessons learned from observing, applying and listening to the body from a Holistic perspective. Having a Grandmother who was a Healer started me on the path to my calling as a Massage Therapist and a passionate student of the Holistic approach in facilitating healing in a body.
After successfully providing treatments for over 1000 + “Individual Bodies”, These are 7 Common Principles from the wisdom - observed, learned and shared from my personal and professional life. :
1. If You Are Not Feeling It, Then You Are Not Feeling It.
Timing is everything. To be able to listen to the body, you have to be present and aware. You have to understand that there is a natural rhythm that the body possesses, like air passing in and out of your lungs, or the beats of your heart. This kind of awareness and understanding allows you to more accurately “hear” the body’s underlying messages.Sensing and intuition are the other keys to analyzing the “disorganization” of the body - which often presents as pain. This is all achieved through a dynamic process of collaboration between the information from your mind and information your own tactile placement (of hands, arms, etc. on the body) is feeding back to you. So while it’s a good start to use the client’s initial complaint to target the pain it’s equally important to be aware of other “quieter” symptoms. These could include pain in other parts of the the body (headache, numbness etc.), or holding and/or releasing of breath.Once this process of robust communication with the body occurs, holistic treatment can truly begin.
2. Follow the Trail
When a body presents itself in pain, it’s crucial to determine whether it is limited to a specific area or is in fact a related to another tender area. The body is all connected through a complex web of tissues, like multi-lane highways connecting cities. What you feel in one part of the body can be felt in another area as well. Following the path to relief comes from being able to “mute” or soften the volume at each site of discomfort, a little bit at a time, in order to recognize subtle shifts elsewhere in the body. This creates a roadmap of where to go next. At the same time, you want to factor in mobility as well. This can be illustrated by the following comparison: If you took a house and tipped it upside down it would be unable to hold its structure and contents.Essentially the house would collapse. It’s different with the structure of the human body. Unlike a house a body be flipped, twisted and compressed and still retain its frame and continue to function the same. Follow the trail of release through softening of the pain issue and/or manipulating the body’s mobility, to successfully guide you through to the next part of your bodywork treatment checklist.
3. Intention is the Key to Locked Areas
You can’t force the body to naturally let go of a sensation by force. Tightness for example exist due to a weakness in the muscular tissue. The approach that I have found works is by finding a pocket in the tissue that is not tight or ‘finding the door.’ Manipulating tissue at its tightness is like trying to walk thru a wall, hence the door analogy. Find the path to least resistance to the problem and work your way in. From here the restriction can be loosened and eventually separated. There is also an inner dialogue in self with the tissue to stay committed and focus to the task of loosening the tissue. I was taught once to not think of muscle but to think of what is holding on this tightness. Get to where it is being anchored and ‘untie the knot.’
4. Get Up! Stand Up!
There are signs everywhere that reveal how the body is behaving. Sometimes orthopaedic testing is not enough. To see what is restricted is to demonstrate how and where the body is unrestricted. The body needs to move to be observed in action.. Have your client get up, stand up, walk, sit, jump and even run to get a clearer picture. What’s going on in the mind can influence the body also. Posture can actually be determined by what we tell ourselves. The outside is connected to the inside. I often think about this concept of putting yourself in Jordans (shoes) may make you feel “as if” you are Michael Jordan, but you will never be him. As therapists we need to see what’s authentically happening in the body by being able to peel the armor that most people wear around it. Learn to see not just with your eyes, but with all your senses. Listen and be open for clues to be revealed.
5. Change Patterns
Once the body has been ‘tuned’ it is vital to introduce a different movement pattern to allow the organized body to stay healthy and supple. Joints, muscles, nerves and other inner networks of the body,must now be “reintroduced” to the newly renovated space of the body, typically through fascial work. The body needs to get used to occupying a space that is now less cluttered and hindered range of proper movement in the past. The spine gets locked from sitting postures. Educating and introducing a go-forward change in pattern can be as simple as getting up every 20 minutes over periods that the body may have been used to sitting for hours at a stretch in the past. Another method is to do movements that may never be useful but essentially can make the mind and body link. Often the body after the treatment feels like ‘jello’ or even energized. The effect is temporary. The long term value is the change of patterns. Not sitting but standing while reading your emails or brushing your teeth on one foot would be different for the majority of people living in North America. There are many ways to do things different but we as humans have become automatic in how we function. The body and brain is capable of anything as long there is interest and value in the action. The body can fix itself. You can fix yourself. As a therapist we act as cleaners and demolition crew to a building that needs to be renovated. We simply make room and clear up the space for body. It’s up to the owner to be like an architect how this new space will be used.
6. Breathe and Rhythm
Breathe of therapist and client are both important in establishing rhythm. Rhythm of breathe promotes relaxation. The capability to ‘keep calm’ creates an ease in the tissue in which the work of manipulation reduces the apprehension to protect the tender parts. Pain increases as the tissue contracts to brace the imminent danger. Danger is not always a piano dropping from a 5 story building on your head. The sense of danger for the body can be in the form of muscle memory. Memory are stored in each of the individual cells that form the space. Take for an example a individual who suffered an ACL replacement going back to agility training. Post surgery, the structure of the knee joint is stable but the muscles, joints, and receptors around the knee can still recall the actual injury which caused the problem. The whole body and specially the knee structure has reference to the original injury. The knee will naturally tighten up anything similar to action rekindles the thought of the injury. The body will never regain the full trust to become as strong.
There is a clear message that gets translated to the nervous system including your own breathing to also protect and defend. Finding the rhythm in the breathe translates to the rhythm of the treatment. The body works on a tempo, the heart and lungs are ones that are the most obvious for its a series pumps and valves that allows blood to pass. Tuning in to the body is like a Maestro conducting an orchestra. Rhythm and tempo of the body being tuned often occurs in later part of the treatment due to inexperience of the therapist. Picking up on these subtle cues comes with time to become faster at dialing in the frequency when tuning the body. The body needs to adjust to the treatment to be fully open. The faster method though is for you the therapist to establish the rhythm. In dance and in a fight the individual needs to lead to capture the tone of the movement. With the integration of the rhythm and breathe accomplishes the majority of the desired outcome.
7. Get Out of Your Own Way
Let the work do the talking. Have confidence in what you do, but at the same let it come naturally. Forcing something to work is not permanent and not worth it. True staying power comes doing things right the first time. “First, do no harm.” Treat the person on the table as if they are someone you care about. I always wish for the people I care about to be healthy and free to access the important things that matter in their lives. Do the best you can in that moment and just work. There is a saying that amateurs wait for inspiration but professionals get to work. Don’t just measure up to how well you performed yesterday. It’s a slow process at times but the results will be long lasting. Thinking is required but the action of the thought is where the method can blossom. Trust your tactile tools (hands, forearms, elbow, knees, foot) to gather as much information to enable the body being worked on to get back to what it is used for. The goal is to give the client leaven education about their body to thrive. What we do on the table is a small part of the clients health and ultimately will be up to them to continue the healing.
By following the 7 Principles above, you can take every treatment a step closer to your BEST. Even if there is a setback, you get to try again the next time. It’s a series of attempts to get the results you envision. We learn better from the failure, true. But we also learn through practice; we learn about ourselves and eventually become a Master of our creative work.
Live Longer. Live Better. Keep It Balanced.
Garnet Santicruz, RMT CMRP CPTS
Massage Therapist, Trainer, Body Mover
Co-founder of MOA Living