Sunday, January 17, 2010

Resilience and Bodywork

George Russell
When clients new to my chiropractic practice tell me stories of injuries, they will often say something like this: “The thing is, I wasn’t doing anything. I was just bending over to pick up a paper clip and—boom—my back went out.” Or: “It all started last winter, when I slipped on the subway steps—before that, I never had a problem.”

Many people, whether or not they believe they know the cause of an injury, simply want the pain and physical limitations to go away so that they can get on with their busy lives. Who can blame them? Who among us hasn’t wanted the same thing? However, in order to prevent future injury—and possible catastrophe—we all need to be willing to look more deeply at ourselves and engage in a dialogue with our body.

I think of the “phenomenon” of injury as the meeting of a long-held habit with an unfortunate event. The unfortunate event is the more obvious factor; it may take the form of a fall, a car accident, lay-off from a job, or a sudden decline of health in a family member. These events are often truly unpredictable. We may think that the place we injure, whether it’s our back, elbow, or ankle, is also random. Yet the injury is determined largely by habits we had acquired long before the event occurred.

Our habits are recorded in our body and reflect our experiences in the same way that the rings of a tree reflect its life. We can talk about breaking habits we have that lead to bad backs, sore necks, or disease and cancer, but our talk often doesn’t lead to action—we still hunch head-forward toward the laptop screen, smoke, leave late for work and run for the train. We get stuck, and our bodies reflect the way we habitually act. Form follows function.

How can we begin to know ourselves—our many forms and functions—on deeper level? Through a new dialogue with the body. Some experienced bodyworkers facilitate this by touching, shifting and moving the body, not only within and between muscles and joints, but also within the automatic, unconscious part of the mind that controls how we stand and hold ourselves. It is this dialogue that opens the door to change and acclimates our bodies to the change. Bodywork interrupts nervous system patterns and opens the door to new patterns that are more functional, and helps us have fewer injuries and greater resilience.

Resilience is more about the nervous system and mind than it is about our bony and muscular structure or the particulars of the environment. To be resilient is to be open to change. Resilience requires the breaking of habit, which almost always requires an outside perspective, and often requires a crisis, small or large. A wonderful tool for building awareness, breaking habit, and opening to change is to be touched and moved by massage and bodywork.

Dr. George Russell is a bodyworker, chiropractor, teacher, counselor and movement specialist. He is a former professional dancer, and a long-time student of Yoga, Pilates and Alexander techniques. Energy medicine, guided imagery, the 12 steps, and psychotherapy all inform his approach to care. He is a popular teacher in our Continuing Education Department and has several upcoming classes in our current semester

Take a look at all of the classes for Winter/Spring 2010.