Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Forms of Bodywork East and West

This picture demonstrates the state of our bodies nicely:

Yes, it seems that we are stopped, see the red color, when our bodies and postures are out of whack. When balanced we are in the green. Simplistic but true.

In my N=1 experiments on myself and my studies of all things health and psychotherapy,  I have both surveyed and practiced the popular and some obscure forms of body and movement work east and west.

I would say that the one form of bodywork that we all know about is yoga. Having scoffed at the more athletic forms, I have finally been won over by yoga stretching. There's something about doing some pose that stretches an entire chain of muscles, tendons, and ligaments running all up the body that makes you feel awesome afterwards.

I have also stumbled upon an obscure stretching technique  from Australia which combines yoga with athletic stretching...

Let me officially begin this post now by introducing the what and why of bodywork, then I will survey the main categories and types of approaches out there. My hope is that the few who may read this will find something that sticks in their mind to explore further. Us modern hominids need to get out of our heads and into our bodies somehow.

Hopefully that will soon be you!

Bodywork comes in many different forms and from many different traditions. From western psychotherapy, athletics, sports to the eastern religions and inner traditions.

Each tradition tends to have a very different goal in mind from the others and working with the breath is just about the only thing most of them have in common.

I'll begin by introducing the western approaches, simply because they tend to be much more obscure than the eastern practices:

The Feldenkrais Method and The Alexander Technique are two similar schools of bodywork that focus on what I call "wrong use of self." This means that our everyday movements and postures contain many tensions and movements that are not optimal towards our functioning.

Humans are born premature compared to other mammals and learn virtually every movement by modelling others. Thus, we don't always learn the best ways to go about everyday moving and doing and expressing. The structure of modern society also constricts the movements and postures we habitually take.

Then there are the more psychological approaches such as Reichian Therapy and Bioenergetics which are two classical bodywork schools that came out of psychoanalysis. I have practiced techniques from these often, but am not a fan of some of the regressive and cathartic emphasis they both carry. For example, one technique is acting out a temper tantrum until you can feel childhood frustrations and anger you were carrying around in your body.

Another great way of bodywork is the Gestalt Therapy emphasis on acting out whatever actions seem to want to surface. Unlike Reichian and Bioenergetic therapies, Gestalt Therapy doesn't usually rely on exact techniques. This is a problem I've found with much bodywork: there's an overemphasis on techniques over spontaneous expression.

A more modern approach which works with trauma draws heavily on Gestalt Therapy is Sensorimotor Psychotherapy which also draws heavily on the work of Peter Levine. There's been an awesome resurrgence of body oriented therapies due to the new wave of trauma work in therapy.
Another example is something called the Trauma Release Exercises. These are a neat set of simple exercises which steal much from Bioenergetics to induce these natural tremors which seem to release held tensions in the muscles and possibly release traumatic experiences without having to directly re-experience them.

Several other approaches are RolfingThe Rosen Method, and Hakomi.

One of the main differences between the eastern and western approaches is that the eastern approaches tend to work with so called subtle energies and such. The western methods also recognize our emotional history and traumas being stored in our bodily tissues and how working through those things lead to deep bodily and psychological changes.

So although the eastern methods are more widely known, they don't take our psychological experience into account as deeply as the western methods do.

Yoga is extremely popular but I doubt the average practitioner truly knows very much about it's true origins and intent. Yoga tends to come from the tantric or mystical and esoteric forms of Hinduism. The body poses and stretches are but one piece of these practices.

In my past in the martial arts, I practiced tai chi and qi gong. I have fond memories of going through these techniques by the side of a lake in a kempo-karate seminar.

On a practical level, I have found the eastern methods tend to help a practitioner to be able to move in sync with the breath and the deep stretching seems to cause an awesome relaxation response in the musculature. It's the feeling of having had a deep tissue massage.

I hope you can find an approach that works for you. Take a look at these links to find a body practitioner near you. Many of them currently combine methods and it's rare to find someone set only on one technique.

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