By Dr. Laxmi Paula Horan
Bodywork or bodymind therapy is a confluence of methods that heal and optimize the body, mind and spirit through deft and sensitive touch treatments.
Bodywork or bodymind therapy makes use of the therapist’s skilled hands and a meditative presence to heal both body and mind. It is actually very ancient, and new only in terms of its present day mixture of western psychological insights and body manipulations, combined with eastern pressure point work and spiritual techniques.
In bodymind therapy the energy body and the physical body are taken into equal consideration. From its point of view, the physical body is simply a denser vibratory frequency than the energy body, yet both are vibratory frequencies nevertheless. If looked at from the perspective of the inner paths of yoga or through the eyes of quantum physics, there really isn’t anything solid about them. Like the phenomena in our world, our bodies are not as firm and unyielding as they appear to be. And as the facts of quantum physics and a newly revived, more spiritual attitude toward the universe continue to slowly percolate down into mass consciousness, more people will come to the same conclusion as writer Marco Vassi, that ‘To know oneself as an energy body is more important, at this moment in history, than to read the words of all the wise men who have ever lived.’
The above statement succinctly sums up the main reason why I felt compelled to teach bodywork or bodymind therapy again, after many years of focusing more intently on other aspects of the path to inner growth. At this point in history, we really do need to understand, even more importantly, directly feel, how our bodies work and respond to different energies, simply because we are so alienated from them. This is partially due to our modern and very mentally-oriented lifestyle and also a result of at least one thousand years of misleading religious conditioning here in India, with its suppression of the body and all the negative feelings this engenders.
Wait a minute, you might interject, when you talk about bodywork, aren’t you talking about some good old-fashioned body rub or massage that any ayah can give in every traditional Indian household? Not really. This would be a misconception, because good bodywork is far more sophisticated than a simple body rub and is rightfully called bodymind therapy. Whereas one should not belittle the natural intuitive talents of some, there is a major distinction when the different levels of structural organization in the body are taken into account, especially the muscles and fascia and where they attach to the bone. Not to mention that bodymind therapy makes conscious use of the interplay of body, breath and psyche.
Thus, to practice it, an extensive knowledge of the human anatomy and some direct experience of one’s own crystallized psychological patterns and their manipulative control is required. Only when given by a practitioner with a solid background in both technique and meditative presence can it be considered a therapy, which first of all relaxes the body and soothes the mind. It can then even be implemented in pursuit of clearly defined therapeutic goals.
When bodywork is practiced at the level of bodymind therapy and is thus paired with therapeutic precision, its benefits are manifold:
o Profound relaxation and the overall effect of making you feel good and genuinely comfortable in your own skin.
o Can be used in the care of the elderly, as well as in treating newborns and infants alike.
o Can assist athletes in training to gain more flexibility and provide specific treatments that are required after competition, or when needed for sports injuries.
o Bodymind therapy can address specific conditions, for which detailed medical protocols have already been established. Any good bodymind therapy training includes them, and once essential skills have been conveyed and the students are familiar with the basic strokes and the amount of pressure they need to apply for each method, a number of physical ailments can be attended to.
o When practiced by a truly skillful and compassionate therapist, psychological imbalances can be brought into balance and at times even severe imbalances and trauma can be dealt with. This last form of application, however, takes a more in-depth training and much on the job experience.
Training for Sensitivity
From some of the above descriptions, which stress the precise use of anatomy knowledge, one might begin to surmise that bodymind therapy is similar to physiotherapy. In actual fact, it is quite different. Physiotherapy, like its relative allopathic medicine, treats the body rather mechanically.
Compartmentalized physiology is taught along with recipes to address different symptoms. However, the bodymind is not acknowledged in its indivisible entirety. In Greek, the indivisible presence of the bodymind is referred to as ‘soma’, and also embraces the psyche aspect of embodiment. In the Greek understanding of the word, ‘soma’ expresses how we feel in our bodies, which is so important when addressing any imbalance. This consideration of the ‘feeling’ aspect is unfortunately sorely lacking in allopathic medicine and physiotherapy in India, as it has been in most cultures in this modern age. Yoga addresses it, but too many yoga teachers don’t. Gradually, this led to a decision to begin conveying some of my skills to a small group of students in 2001. This has grown into a yearly intensive training in four modules. It also inspired both the founding of the Indian Bodymind Therapy Association (IBTA), a group of professionals dedicated to this healing art in India and, more recently, the founding of the Taosomatics™ Institute of Bodymind Therapy in Goa.
The only way to develop the needed sensitivity for bodymind therapy is to train for some time with a seasoned professional. Sensitivity is developed through the daily practice of Tai Chi, which develops internal awareness and also allows for the proper stance during treatments. In my own institute we further the students’ sensitivity training by including the direct experience of emotional release through Rebirthing breathing, and through the introduction of NadiPrana Release™, a particular form of energy yoga, which greatly enhances the fledgling therapist’s ability to feel his or her own feelings and energies. This is crucial, as Tarthang Tulku so aptly states in his writings about Tibetan energy yoga, ‘By working with the energies within our bodies, we begin to understand how mind and matter function and interact. We develop an understanding of physical laws – how sensations arise, perceptions develop, concepts come into being and mental events take place. Once we become aware of the energy that pervades all existence, we are able to see, pursue and experience the potential of this energy. We appreciate the dynamic vibrant character of the material world and draw upon this vitality to nourish ourselves.’
The paradox is that we can help others, only after we have learned to help ourselves. Likewise we can only nourish others through any therapeutic process such as in bodywork, after we have been through the same process ourselves. Our sensitivity, which we have to first hone by feeling through our own stuck places and blockages, can then greatly benefit our clients. Thus the training to become a first-rate bodymind therapist has to follow a two-pronged approach focusing equally on outer technical skill as well as inner sensitivity that allows the therapist to understand the client and his or her needs in the moment.
Modalities of Bodywork
There are countless forms of bodywork in use today. Some are new, some are recreations of almost forgotten age-old techniques, some are traditional applications that have stood the test of time, such as traditional Thai bodywork and siddha marma treatments. The following are a few of the treatments which cover most of today’s clients’ needs. These are offered as part of the standard menu in most spas throughout the world.
Esalen Style Circulatory Bodywork: Named after the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, this treatment starts with head and face, which releases the key points where stress is stored. The body is then prepared to receive the luxurious and soothing strokes of Esalen bodywork. Special attention is given to lymphatic drainage, which helps to boost the immune as well as the circulatory system.
Swedish Style Circulatory Bodywork: A classic European type of bodywork using long strokes and kneading to increase circulation in the body. This soothing, yet invigorating massage releases aches and strains, and improves flexibility.
Sports Massage: Combines many of the strokes of the Swedish bodywork with cross fiber friction techniques, in addition to stretching and tapotement. Special attention can be given to muscles that are used in a particular athletic activity, utilizing muscle-sculpting techniques to release lactic acid build-up and to attend to sprain injuries.
Passive Joint Movement: This is a form of myofascial treatment, which increases the flexibility in the joints and evokes a meditative state in both the therapist and the client. An extended session of Passive Joint Movement can convey a profound experience of letting go.
Orthopaedic Muscle Sculpting (Deep Tissue): After an all-encompassing circulatory massage, specific areas of stress and tension become obvious to the sensitive hands of your therapist. Specific, slow, yet deep pressure is applied to tight areas or knots in the muscles, while you are simultaneously guided in a special biofeedback technique to release lactic acid. This restores the flow of red blood cells and helps stiff muscles quickly regain their flexibility. Muscle sculpting sessions are highly recommended for post-traumatic stress in sports injuries, or to anyone storing stress in the neck and shoulders. This treatment helps in releasing any knots stored in muscles throughout the entire body and is especially helpful in cases of arthritis, lower back pain and sciatica. It is integrated when needed in all of the above treatments. Some times a lengthy session in muscle sculpting may be needed in a particularly stiff area of the body. This can bring relief in all cases of spondilitis.
Rebirthing (combined with the Gates Method): The `gates’ are a series of acupressure points, which correspond to key emotional holding areas. When used by a skilled therapist in conjunction with rebirthing breathing (which charges the body with surplus oxygen), these gates act to stimulate the integration of old withheld patterns and emotions. The client is thus unburdened of many preconditioned responses and can begin to live life more in the present moment.
Siddha Marma: This includes champi (head) massage, which is preceded by a complete Ayurvedic massage of the limbs and torso, plus applied pressure on selected marma points. Siddha marma treatments are above all invigorating and refreshing.
Traditional Thai Bodywork: Thai bodywork is performed on a mat on the floor. The therapist applies pressure to certain points, and a gentle stretching of the muscles as you are placed into different yogic postures according to your body’s capacity. This stimulates the flow of energy in the meridians or sen (subtle energy channels) in the body. Traditional Thai bodywork is not advisable if you have poor flexibility or serious back problems.
To sum it all up, bodymind therapy is a many-faceted approach to human health and wellbeing that can achieve great results without any medication, except for some healing oils, as in the case of Ayurveda. It is successful when applied by a properly trained therapist, and the results speak for themselves. There is a vast body of both scientific and popular literature, which supports the individual claims. As Ferozan and Rashid Surti, two of my students who now run a very successful practice in Mumbai, put it,’Word of mouth of the therapeutic benefit spreads so fast that we could easily work for more than twelve hours a day, which in this profession, of course, is impossible. To not tire ourselves out and to be able to give our best to the people we work with, we limit the number of treatments we do.’
Bodymind therapy is not only wonderful when received from a skilled practitioner, but for the enterprising who love to follow their own inner voice and like to work very intimately with people, it can also be a very rewarding career choice.
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