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Bodywork

One of the debates that has accompanied bodywork throughout its history has been about what specific things various manipulations actually accomplish, and to what conditions it can therefore be applied with some expectation of sucess. Almost all physicians and practitioners interviewed have agreed on one or two fundamental points. One is that most of the body’s processes rely upon the appropriate movement of fluids through our systems, and that bodywork can be an effective means of promoting these circulations. Whether it is blood to the arteries, capillaries, and veins, the contents of the digestive tract, lymph in its vessels, secretions in their glands, or the fluids that fill all of the spaces in between our cells, manipulations can move them around much like I can push water back and forth in a rubber tube; and with a clear knowledge of these fluid pathways and some practice, one can become quite sophistcated in the ways in which one can stimulate their flows.

Now these flows or the lack of them, can have far reaching consequences upon many tissues and functions. Nutrients, oxygen, hormones, antibodies and other immunizers, and of course water, must be delivered to every single cell continually if  it is to survive and respond the way it should, and all kind of toxic wastes must be borne away. There is no tissue in the body that cannot be weakened and ultimately destroyed by chronc interruptions of these various circulations.

Another argument frequently made for the efficacy of bodywork is that both our musculature and the connective tissues which hold us together often become stiffened or shortened or thickened, distorting our posture and limiting our  movements. These tissues can be especially troubling after surgery or any other trauma, when the muscles are either tightening up in order to brace an injured area or are contracting in a general withdrawal reflex, and when the connective tissues are scarring over a wound.

These bracing and healing mechanisms often overdoe their functions, and it is very common that individuals never recover their full range of motion or their normal levels of comfort after an operation or a serious injury. And these stiffenings, shortenings, and thickenings can also happen as a result of a wide array of overuse, disuse, spasm, injury, illness, fatigue, aging, poor habits, or the innumerable physical strains that various occupations demand of us. Bodywork has been used for thousands of years to relax muscles, eliminate spasms, diminish fatigue, soften connective tissue to make it more supple, and so free up the joints, restoring a fuller range of painless movement.

These kind of effects upon our fluids and upon our solids have been rightfully cited as benefits of any number of approaches to bodywork throughout its history. They would certainly be enough to establish its therapeutic value. But it is my feeling that they do not go half far enough in describing the positive changes that can happen as a result of skillfull touching. Even though they are accurate identifications of benefits, they reflect almost exclusively the mechanical aspects of bodywork and of our own systems responses- the laws governing hydraulics, the elasticity and tensile strength of tissues, and so on.

We are, of course, mechanical in many of our physical aspects, so there is a great deal of justification for focusing on these sorts of effects and explanations, as far as they go. But we are much more than mechanical. We are a confluence of physics, chemistry, and conciousness, streams and quanta of energies that interpenetrate one another in enormously complex ways, that moment by moment create layers and layers of effects, and in which the subtle and the gross are always inextricably intertwined.

Dean Juhan-Author of Job’s Body