Mind Shift is a blog series where I turn my fascination with body-nerd research into bite-sized info chunks, designed to help you shift the way you think about–and live in–your body.
One of my bodywork pet peeves is the concept of fixing someone. “Yep, I can fix your shoulder!” “Sure thing–lemme get in there and fix that knee.”
Nope. Not happening. Sorry, folks.
Here’s why this concept drives me nuts: The way you feel in your body did not happen overnight. Yes, there are exceptions in the form of acute injuries, but even in many of those cases, the injury was made possible by overuse, weakness, or other patterns. The injury is often the straw on the camel’s back, but because it’s the event we’re most aware of, it takes the fall.
The idea of coming in for an hour of bodywork and fixing an issue that might be ten years (or more) in the making is…well, less than realistic.
In that case, what’s the use of bodywork?
I’m glad you asked.
I see bodywork as a powerful way to temporarily disrupt movement and postural patterns. Whether or not that disruption leads to lasting change and healing is up to you.
While this disruption can happen in a number of ways, here’s a common example. Let’s say that you, like just about everyone else on the planet right now, has a forward-head posture:
I purposely chose this image because to most of us, the view on the left probably looks normal, while the one on the right might look forced and unnatural. That’s how common forward-head posture is these days–it’s the new “normal.”
The next image gives us a peek at just a few of the internal structures affected by this posture (in reality, it affects the entire body, head to toe).
The majority of my clients come in feeling at least some level of tension in the muscles shown above. I could work on those muscles for 90-minutes straight, but if the client hops off the table and goes back into forward-head posture, the tension won’t be far behind.
Any bodyworker who says they can “fix” this, without the active participation of the owner of the neck in question, is overly optimistic and/or misguided.
What bodywork can do is give you a powerful head start in changing patterns like the one above. If your head is constantly hanging out in front of your body, certain muscles (and fascia) are going to be chronically shortened, others will be chronically lengthened, muscles in either camp might be weak/inactive, and your brain/body holds these patterns as your default position.
Bodywork can help lengthen short muscles and stimulate the receptors of lengthened and/or inactive muscles, like a wake-up call to encourage those tissues to return to proper tone and action, all the while reeducating the brain/body that this new posture is safe to adopt (assuming the bodywork isn’t too deep, pushing too far, too fast).
Bodywork creates a window of opportunity, but what happens in that window is up to you. Whether you return to former postural patterns or mindfully reinforce new ones is your choice.
Of course, massage also just feels great, and that’s a wonderful reason to receive it. This feel-good factor isn’t anything to scoff at, even from the perspective I’ve taken in this post. Being free from pain, even for a short while, is another way to create that window of opportunity. Allowing your nervous system to experience a different relationship to a chronically wonky muscle or to your body as a whole is a potential game changer, if you take advantage of it.
Use bodywork as the amazing tool that it is–and heck, just come in because you want to let go of a stressful week and feel awesome–but please, don’t give your power away to me or anyone else. The key to your health and well being is you.