Body Work Introduction
Why body work?
From our time in the womb, we know ourselves through touch with another. It is by pushing against the edges of the womb that we humans first feel our own boundaries. We kick, punch and wiggle to discover how we’re put together (Burns, 1999, p. 24). It makes sense that, in times of dysfunction, when we can no longer feel parts of ourselves, or when they seem to be acting out of relationship to each other, we return to touch to regain balance. We all have blind spots in our self-perception. By bringing our systems into healing interaction with care professionals we are able to feel ourselves again, and to facilitate change.
The body, emotions and intellect are intertwined. We experience the world through our felt sense. Our nervous system relates those senses back to prior experience and forms an emotional response based on associations and previous experience. The intellect and mental body then acts as a further mediator, layering story or social appropriateness onto the emotional response. We can then have another layer of sensory and emotive response to these stories. Thus, the sense experience of seeing an ex-partner with a presumed lover (who unbeknownst to us is actually his/her cousin) creates a complex swirling of mental and emotional activity. "Human beings seem to be a feedback system. There is an initial germ of awareness. It is expressed physically, emotionally, intellectually, or all three, and then feeds back into the system to be enhanced, muted, redirected, etc. (Schultz & Feitis, 1996, p.49)."
To create change, one can begin on any of these levels. The work of body workers, psychologists, or councilors is to bring awareness to the dysfunction, help to loosen what is stuck, and offer other possibilities. The previous section introduces Axis Syllabus as an example of a modality that offers other possibilities for physical habits. However, many people will need skilled touch, and sometimes deep physical intervention, in order to feel the state of their body and bring it into enough balance that such functional adjustments are possible. As body workers we work primarily through the physical, but we inherently touch the emotional and mental world as well.
While the focus of our work is structural, it can release strong emotions. Many of our deep holding patterns are a result of unreleased experiences and negative belief patterns. When the muscles that hold these belief patterns are released, the emotions can come with them (Schultz & Feitis, 1996, p. 49). As a practitioner, it is important to recognize our scope of practice. It is beyond the massage therapist’s scope of practice to work as a psychologist. What I usually counsel when strong emotions arise while working is for the client to stay with the physical sensations of their experience and not to give power to the accompanying stories. Emotional release is an important part of transformation. It is up to each practitioner to decide how they navigate making space for this release while respecting the scope of their practice and their personal capacity to hold space.
There are countless forms of body work. All of them work, on some level, to increase flow and break up blockages. Some operate on the gross plane, such as deep tissue. Some work through subtler means, such as cranio-sacral therapy and myofascial release. All interact with the fascia to create change in the deep structures of our body/minds.
The body work methodologies introduced in this chapter are a small taste of modalities I use to intercede in these complex webs of experience.