Recently, my friend Karen Clay introduced me to a little book of posture and movement cues called Stack Your Bones, by Ruthie Fraser, a Structural Integration practitioner and yoga teacher. It’s a charming book of brief insights, not a narrative. I like it a lot. It’s one of the few books about posture I’ve looked at that doesn’t “rub me the wrong way.”
My favorite idea in the book, so far, is on page 85, entitled Align and energize your body’s inner domes. I’ve long been familiar with aligning inner domes, but I had never considered this final one: “Invite your soft palate, behind the roof of the mouth, to stack on top.” It’s the best idea about balancing the head that I’ve encountered.
In the last month or so, I’ve had the opportunity to teach two classes using an updated model of direct technique, and it’s been quite lovely. I’ve changed 2 distinct things: using a spiral/counter-spiral test to refine any given technique (as I mentioned in my earlier post, The magic of precision), and using a new scheme of categorization for techniques (which I had simply never tried before). The result is that the teaching feels clearer and simpler than ever before.
And it’s so much more: at first, I thought that these changes would only help me teach. Now, I see that the work is better than ever, and I’m finding more “new” moves than I’ve found in years. Amazing.
This year, the WA State Board of Massage enacted a change to our professional credential: from licensed massage “practitioner” to licensed massage “therapist.” Besides the linguistic hitch of remembering to say or type a different word, is there a difference?
There’s Shakespeare’s “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (Romeo & Juliet) We could argue that many people already have a vague or simplistic understanding of what massage is, so the name change doesn’t alter the need for public education about the what massage is and isn’t.
When I first heard of the name change, I’ll admit, I inwardly rolled my eyes a bit: ‘here’s another set of administrative editing and reprinting I have to do.’ (Editing, like any other chore, which actually only took about 1/10th the time that my resistance imagined. Ha!) As I’ve been sitting with it, however, I’m now glad for the title change.
While I liked the emphasis on ‘practice’ that our previous title held, I’m glad for the alignment of our title with the intent of our work: therapy. The definition: treatment intended to relieve or heal a disorder. (In another post, I’ll take this a step further: what’s the distinction between orienting to the disorder and orienting to the health within the system.)
Whatever the method — and there are so many good methods that achieve positive change — what we have in common is using our touch (through hands, sometimes forearms or feet!) to help others heal from injuries or insults, expand their body’s expressiveness or strength, and live with a more complete and vital relationship with their bodies. As Marge Piercy writes, in her poem:
To Be of Use
The people I love best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek hand of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields of harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in the common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles into dust,
but the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wind and oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries out for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
Autumn is the time for making changes — releasing what’s no longer working and reorienting to the simpler versions of all our activities. This year, we’re making the change away from land line: secure email fax service (hooray!) and me shifting calls to my cell phone. I still prefer email for appointments and conversations about classes, but Richard is teaching me about text translation of voice mail!
Lauren’s email: email@example.com
Lauren’s phone: 206-910-1905
Fax number remains the same: 206-708-6210
Looking forward to staying in touch!
Of the qualities that are part of bodywork methods, the one most impressively mysterious to me is the magic of precision. Although there are many types of precision, I want to focus here on directionality. (Unsurprisingly, I’ve learned the most about precision from Judith Aston).
My current version of direct technique (releasing tissue by moving it towards neutral) includes finding a layer with a strong restriction, moving it towards neutral, and then spiraling that layer in the direction that maximizes the sense of opposing the restriction or barrier (spiraling the tissue in the other direction “loses” the sense of meeting the barrier). The remarkable thing about this is that, as the direction of movement finds a perfect match with the barrier, the speed of tissue release dramatically increases. Why? Is it just that the body recognizes an intelligent intervention?
As fall rolls around, I’m trying to freshen up my sense of method. And I’ve been feeling that this is the “year of the joint” for me. I recently posted about an improving method of joint decompression, and I’ll soon post more about this. But meanwhile…
Myofascial balancing includes three distinct targets:
- Tracts of soft tissue, to be directionally mobilized towards neutral
- Bones, to be moved towards neutral through their surrounding soft tissue
- Joints, generally to be decompressed
I’ll soon write more about each category.
It’s been a big year, technically. I wonder what’s going to happen before it’s over?
At any rate, the latest development is a deepening of something I first heard from Judith Aston 20 years ago: the notion that change has a “tempo” or appropriate speed. I don’t think that I completely accepted the idea. For years, I’ve thought and taught that there could be an direct relationship between practitioner force and speed of change, and I think that’s part of the truth. But lately, I find that there’s magic in finding the match (again, thank you, Judith) between my effort and tissue release, and then staying at the unfolding edge of it.
It’s challenging to stay with this match for a long time. The biggest struggle is with my own patience. The reward is that this is the easy way—the way between waiting and forcing.
Over the years, I’ve learned many different ways to improve joint alignment…or, as I’ve learned to think, to break joint fixations. (I do believe that joint fixations are categorically different from run-of-the-mill myofascial imbalances.) The most important way that my methods have evolved in this realm is that I orient, more and more, to the central role of joint decompression.
When treating Type 2 joint fixations, I gradually came to believe that the easiest method was just to apply an adequate level of local joint decompression. (Decompression, or traction, of the whole spine is very useful, but a different effect.) Now, I have good methods for creating local decompression throughout the spine.
More recently, I’ve started to appreciate that I’ve underused this tactic in the rest of the body. Traction of one bone is profoundly different, in terms of effects on a joint, from tractioning both relevant bones. I’m quite excited about the results I’m getting. More soon…
I just attended my first Aston-Patterning CE class in about 14 years. Fortunately, I had all my roomies from that last course (Valerie Lyon, Beth Berkeley and Elaine Marquez) in the room with me again. It really was quite a lovely experience: Harvey Ruderian and Brian Linderoth brought their wisdom and experience, and I definitely advanced. This makes it even more exciting to think of teaching visceral manipulation with Lauren next year. More soon…
Postural or movement education should be about principles, first and foremost. What are some of the principles of neutral alignment?
- Neutral alignment effectively demands stabilization of itself (as does poor alignment). It is not an imposition or a struggle.
- Neutral alignment poises one segment on top of another, so that each segment is in its highest position. Therefore…
- The least crooked alignment is also the tallest alignment. In other words, we get shorter by getting more crooked.
- The feeling of improved alignment includes the sense that our musculoskeletal system is supporting us, not that we’re trying to hold ourselves up.
- Local body support is vertically organized: in standing, the front of the foot holds up the front of the body, the medial aspect of the leg holds up the midline of the upper body, etc.
I love thinking about how our bodies function in gravity. For me, the most interesting and relevant ideas are those that characterize the feeling of neutrality and harmony in position and movement.
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