Ida Rolf and Moshe Feldenkrais, the great titans of 20th century approaches to the body, had a friendly argument that spanned their careers. Does function follow form (Rolf’s assertion), or does form follow function? Both of these are true. They are two sides of the same coin.
Why address function as well as form? As Manual Therapists, most of us work within the first approach which asserts that function follows form. If we release a tight trapezius, then the muscle will remain pain-free. Our work focuses on creating ease in tissues (form) that have become rigid and lifeless, so that our client feels and functions better. Unfortunately, we all find that no matter how effective the bodywork, our client often returns with the same stuck places. Why? Our client’s tension patterns are maintained within her nervous system (function), not just her tissues. Muscles don’t do anything that the brain doesn’t tell them to do. Without sufficient interruption of the habitual brain impulse to contract a muscle, the tension will be maintained in how the client functions. The client will unconsciously maintain the brain-to-muscle pattern that has been programmed into the nervous system unless it receives new sensory information. Somatic Education (SE) is informed by the second assertion: form follows function. SE refers to disciplines (like Feldenkrais) that address the HOW of a person’s tension pattern rather than the WHAT. If the client cannot sense HOW they reach to pick up the phone, then they have no power to change the movement pattern which is causing the chronic tension. Somatic Movement Techniques offer simple, easy-to-learn movements that can be integrated into a Manual Therapy session to provide the client with tools to sense and release their own chronic tension. Movement is the teacher. Sensation is the messenger.
Movement as Medicine Movement is essential to life. Whether it is the movement of cellular respiration, the movement of blood throughout the system, the movement of the sliding surfaces of the myofasciae, or the freedom to move away from self-denigrating thoughts, movement signals a healthy system. No one likes to get stuck: in their shoulder, in their gut, or in their heart. Manual Therapists use their hands to introduce movement to tissues which have become immobile. It is movement which stuck myofasciae crave, so that layers can receive hydration, begin to slide, and health can be restored. Even in Manual Therapy, the method which facilitates change is movement. Since connective tissue has thixotropic properties, when movement is introduced (whether manually- or self-generated) it becomes warmer, more lubricated and better able to flow. Think of shaking the ketchup bottle before you pour. Similarly, when habituated aspects of our function are “shaken up” by fresh sensory information via new movement, a different range of possibilities become available. Participation with sensation and movement for no other purpose than to receive experience rids the system of habitual repetition in favor of informed choice. When the inherent beauty of the sensory-motor system is facilitated by Somatic Movement Techniques, the easy, free movement of childhood can be rediscovered. Movement is much more than ambulation from here to there, participation in a socially sanctioned ritual of skill or style, or a means to elevate heart-rate. It is the shared language of all living systems. It is the impetus and gush of the life force itself, forming us in utero, compelling us to reach out spatially into our environment, and shaping us and our lives in unseen ways. Being a student of movement is not just the province of yoginis, exotic belly dancers or pencil-thin ballerinas; it is also the province of any human who is interested in learning how to live with less wear and tear, and more ease and pleasure.
Physician Heal Thyself and Empower Your Patient By nature, Manual Therapists have a keen desire to help others. We want to respond to our clients’ needs for pain relief. Because of this we may become exclusively focused on manual treatment to the detriment of our clients’ progress. We believe if it doesn’t happen through our own hands, it cannot be valuable or effective. Since we have not yet considered movement as treatment, our practice may be limited to remedying recurrent problems with our hands. To also empower a client with tools for learning to undo their own chronic tension is entirely different from “fixing” them. Somatic Education reinstates an innate ability to free our own stuck places and to become better at making choices that do not cause us harm. The degree to which we develop our own sensory-motor awareness through Somatic Movement Techniques will define our ability to empower our clients with the same tools for their own healing. This cannot be known unless we have experienced it first-hand ourselves. Our own Somatic Movement practice goes hand in glove with empowering others to heal themselves. As we ourselves improve how we movethrough life we learn to effectively guide clients to make efforts towards pain free health and well being. Form and function are two sides of the same coin. They cannot be separated or ranked any more than body and mind can be. Our own and our clients’ felt-sense experience of this continuum can empower us to achieve pain free lives, enriched by the magic of movement.