Is Bodywork Enough?
(Confessions of an ex-bodyworker)
by Eric Cooper
I was in pain for over 30 years, and I searched for anything to help relieve my pain. In my quest, I studied many bodywork modalities.
In massage school, I learned the names of muscles, where they attach, techniques for kneading muscles, petrissage (firm kneading strokes), efflorage (long, flowing strokes), trigger point compression, and fascia release. I learned to look at the body from a mechanical perspective, to see my client on the table as anatomy, like a machine made of parts. Bodywork is typically manipulation of the patient’s anatomy. But these techniques, soothing as they might be, did not ease my pain.
My education in massage therapy didn’t look at the deeper reasons of why the client is stuck in those patterns of tension. I was interested in achieving long-lasting pain relief.
Pressing on sore muscles only tricks the brain into relaxing the muscles. The muscles are the loyal workers, doing what the brain and spinal chord tell them to do. There is no muscle memory, only nervous system “memory”. The muscles that I was pushing against during massage sessions were being actively tightened by the nervous system. Massage is passive (on the part of the client) and may give temporary release and a feeling of well-being, but that feeling fades as the system returns back to the pattern of how it wants to hold the tension. This leads to long-term clients, (good for the therapist) but does not touch the root of the problem, that the tension patterns are learned by the nervous system, and must be un-learned by the nervous system in order to achieve relief.
People present with similar problems: sore back, hunched-over, tight front, postural distortions. Chronic tensions are in these learned patterns of stress response, injury reaction and repetitive motions. Problem pain patterns are learned as persistent high tensions becomes normalized and un-noticed.
It takes involving the brain to change these recurring patterns. Somatic, slow movements create the feedback the nervous system needs in order to re-learn what relaxed truly is. This type of sensory-motor learning results in long-term improvements in posture and pain relief.
Because of these persistent tensions, the internal sensory map of the body is missing many pieces, which results in a distorted inward perception of bodily space. The whole system organizes around these missing pieces of bodily self-perception. Slow movements allow feedback for the brain to fill in the missing pieces. A somatic approach (brain + body) is the most effective way to change these deep involuntary tension habits.
Know this: you are not merely a body on the table. You are a sensing being, a soma. It takes a somatic viewpoint to reintegrate the places that were lost, to release the pain, and to be whole again.
this: close your eyes, be very still, look inside and see what you notice.
Perceive your sense of internal space. Sense your muscle tension. Is there a
difference between the sides? Where do you sense the residue of stress? Where
can you not sense yourself?
To have an significant experience of how you can teach your brain to give you back voluntary control of tension, try my video titled Opening the X of the Front at youtu.be/jana_n1zFUY
Eric Cooper, CCSE. I help people integrate mind and body to be free from troublesome tensions.