Friday, 27 September 2013

Integrated Anatomy - Holistic Anatomical Language

I have been excited about writing this blog for a while now as I get a chance to really explain why I personally believe the language of Anatomy needs to be changed. 

I decided not to publish the first draft as it read as quite a dry history lesson, even though the people behind the move towards a holistic understanding of anatomy are dynamic, brilliant and captivating! I would encourage you to follow these links if you want to read about some of the people that have helped me develop my thinking in the past few years. (They are ranked in no order - they are simply the 10 people and their books that I turn to almost every day.)

Ida Rolf, however, heads the pack in order of magnitude! The work that she did was ground breaking in relation to the understanding we have today of integrated anatomy. As a Ph.D in bio-chemistry she had a keen grasp of how the cellular structure within us works. After studying many Body-Therapy techniques, including Osteopathy and yoga, she slowly started work on her own approach to movement and body-work therapy: Structural Integration.
Structural Integration has fondly been called 'Rolfing' after Ida Rolf's legacy. It is the theory that during our lives, outside factors, emotional issues, internal illnesses and gravity take a tole on the body and it becomes misaligned. Ida Rolf was the first person to really embrace the fact that fascia, the connective tissue that holds us all together, could be seen as an organ in itself and that it could be readjusted to allow the body to realign and heal. Once the body is shown where it can soften and release through Structural Integration and Fascia Release, movement is then allowed new freedom within the person who is being treated as there is less restrictions that is hindering flow. 

Ida Rolf's work with Structural Integration, I believe, led the way for fascia to be looked at in a fully scientific way, which has subsequently led to body-work being researched in-depth into the effect that touch has on the connective tissue, overall health, well-being and improved movement. The idea that until 100 years ago we had missed the largest organ in the body - connective tissue - as a major factor in the anatomy 'systems' is amazing to me. 

Do not be fooled when new-papers tell you that massage has no scientific research. It's simply not true. There is a vast community leading peer reviewed research in the field of massage and body-work. To begin with, just visit the Journal Of Bodywork and Movement Thearpies for a taste! 

Fascia is the founding reason why I believe Anatomy needs to me looked at again with clarity of vision, and why a holistic language needs to be formed within the body-work. If we want positive outcome within our sessions we need to think less of isolated muscles and static terms of movement (i.e arm flexion), and look at how whole movement is formulated; restricted at first and released afterwards. 

Connective tissue also breaks down the argument that was formed throughout the classical view of anatomy. As it flows through all layers, encapsulating every cell, forming sheaths, creating webbed scar tissue and allowing us to be suspended in form whilst gravity pushes us down, I think it is about time we start looking at our bodies with new eyes. 

This is why at Cornerstone Therapies I make sure the people that I help understand that there is more to massage than simply moving muscle. We slowly soften and sink into the layers of the body, intending touch to show the body where it's tight and needs to release, where there are areas that need to move and change, as well as relax and sink back. My work is slow; one stroke can take a few minutes, but the intention is deep and thorough as I want to connect with all layers to make sure that not a single stroke is wasted. I am not interested in singular muscle movement as my intention is to move you to a different place! If I were to only treat one muscle in the back (as if I could!) I can't expect the whole of the back to release as I haven't asked it to change state with the isolated part. 

The language that body-work has needs to change with the knowledge that we have and the technology that we embrace. I long for the day when we can securely and safely store video data from the IPad generation of gadgets as we could then record movement in its whole rather than have tick boxes for movement tests such as flexion and extension - we could see how the form is reacting for the feet to the head in one move! 

Finally, I believe fascia, due to its sliding state, encourages us not to look at people in a static position that is often called the 'Anatomical Position'. Rather, it moves us towards a more realistic view of the natural form, which is living motion, instead of a standing pose. 

In the next blog we will look at movement in a bit more depth and see if we can get body-work and movement singing in harmony. 

Thursday, 12 September 2013

A Trip Through Classical Anatomical History

Ancient art can show us a thing or two about the human need to embrace the anatomy that forms us. The Venus Of Willendorf  (pictured left), tells a story of a potter in 24,000BC. Forming this sumptuous, rolling, beautiful statue out of clay with their hands, the potter shows a vast appreciation of the female form, unveiling our eyes to the openness that the body can be admired. With her hands resting on her breasts, in an easy stance, this statue will hopefully be the first step along the way to understanding that the body, the shell that cases our life force, should be softly and easily looked upon. When we look at anatomy, we are looking at ourselves, and so the subject shouldn't be classified simply into the medical field of understanding, or with mental constraint.

We all have a basic right to understand how we function.

If we are going back to 24,000BC to start our search for why anatomy is not just integral to massage therapy, but also for our own understanding of ourselves, I hope you will forgive this less than in-depth blog! But I do believe that art can be a good way of looking at how we understand anatomy in it's Classical Westernized History.

The Greeks followed the Egyptians in the development of medicine. Not only did Hypocrates give us the oath on which Medical Practitioners still swear on today, but Galen performed brain and eye surgery. The Greek's observations of how the body functioned influenced medical thought right up into the middle ages in Europe. But it is the art that we still have around us today that we can gaze on to enhance our understanding of bodies and movement.

Take a look at the Greek and Roman sculptures in any museum and you will see bodies ripple with movement. As they are seen in battle, the worriers are depicted with  tension and anger, whilst the nymphs are refined and gaze into the middle distance. These different poses are great to look at as they tell of muscles, fascia, bones, organs, blood and lymph flowing in harmony to create the human existence. Experience is captured in stone, but the existence of the models who posed for the art is almost palpable. I have never stood looking at these amazing forms and thought about the singular systems that make movement happen; the 10 that are taught to every Massage student in the U.K. All I have ever seen are amazing bodies in flight!

Then we get to the galleries that house the Pre-Renaissance drawing. I love these as they are paintings of exquisite skill, but the hands are often 'wrong'!  If you see sketch books from the famous Painters, they will often be filled with sketches of hands as they are so complicated in the way that they move to express emotion. The truth is that artists didn't know much about what was under the skin, and so they had very little idea about how to draw the mechanics of the hand.

Leonardo Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man 
It was only until we hit the Renaissance that we see art catching up, (and the hands improving!) with anatomy as we know it today. Dissection work was limited to the Medics, and it took a lot for Leonardo DaVinci to get a place within the dissection rooms so that he could make a comprehensive study of the human form. His ideas of anatomy lay in the Greek/Roman ideas that all mammals were the same, just in different proportions. So, when Da Vinci found that he had the Tibia and Fibula (lower leg) of a man but no foot, he got a foot of a bear and drew it underneath the human leg. After 25 years he realized that human anatomy is unique, but due to the lack of human forms that he could draw from he drew a fully formed baby and then surrounded it with the uterus of a cow!

However, Da Vinic demonstrated that the Biceps not only flex the arm, but also supernate the arm, allowing your hand turn down toward the floor. This wasn't recognized for nearly 300 years after his work was put away into private collections.

Leonardo Da Vinci's work is also recognized for looking at the separate systems that we are so fond of today. The skeletal, vascular and muscular systems are all well documented. And I wonder if this is why we still see them in such singular entities today? Was it that his work was so ground breaking, and the work of the medics around him were so ahead of their field that the beauty of anatomy that they did find wasn't questioned until relatively recently?

Connective tissue, the Fascia that is so fashionable today, was the goop that was forgotten about, ignored and thrown away. Only now are we fully realizing that superficial fat is incased in connective tissue that is so important.

Western anatomy, in its classical form is sectioned into systems that we can understand. This is a fantastic building block to see how we move. It's also brilliant for physicians to grapple with as they can become expert in one part of the body. But as Body Workers it's vital to see the body as a whole, a sum of all the parts. I also think that the Medical World would benefit from looking at the body in a more holistic way - embracing how their expertise on one aspect has knock on effects to the rest of the body.

When you see the body depicted in art, start to ask yourself what the body is showing you. Can you see
Michelangelo's David
See where his body is shifted,
tilted and rotated!
where there maybe tension? A shortening in the musculature, a contraction within the stance. Are there parts that are overly long, causing weakness? Now see if there is a connection between them - can you spot that one side is long and weak and the other short and tight? Try and get your eye into seeing how this may change the posture in the statue or painting that you are looking at.

There are many ways to look at anatomy through time. If you are interested, I would recommend getting a bottle of wine and relaxing with and internet rampage for an evening or two! Start looking at a part you are interested in; historically or anatomically based, and go from there. One aspect you could look into is the Arabic texts; ancient manuscripts with intricate drawings of the eyes. Or check out the Greeks and the humors to find out how phlegm and bile were supposed to effect the body.

For me the unanswerable question is at what time, and why, did we start systemizing the body to such a degree that we stopped looking at it as a whole?

If you have the answer, do let me know! I look forward to chatting it over with you via Twitter, or through the Cornerstone Therapies' website.

Until next time, enjoy your own journey into Classical Anatomy  and enjoy the museums!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Anatomical Exploration Begins!

Thank you for taking the time out to read this posting today. This is the beginning of a journey into the basics of anatomy - an exploration into the subject that all holistic therapists and their clients can stand firm on. Anatomy is our link and our method of communication, which means we should make sure we are talking the same dialect throughout these blog postings.

Why do we need to know about Anatomy? Because we need to move our bodies! 

The journey that we are about to take together will be filled with questions, opinions and beliefs, that all make a rich tapestry in our relationship as we get to know this vast subject. This being the case please do comment on each posting and start a conversation. This is all done to empower you as the client and the receiver of Body-Work so that you can understand the process that your therapist is taking you through. Don't be shy - get in touch!

I work in the U.K and so my view of anatomical learning is very much based on the experiences we have here in England. It would be great to hear from people who have trained in Anatomy across the globe so we can compare and expand that knowledge.

In the U.K Body-Workers are often trained through small private institutes or vocational colleges. Over the past five or so years there have been moves to take Body-Work training into Universities, but at the moment the vast majority of therapists will have studied in a college style environment. This is a fantastic place for people who are not classic academics, (which I am not!), and they are safe places for students to learn rudimentary human anatomy. When therapists leave their basic massage training, they walk into the treatment room knowing the basics of the human body and the systems of:

  • Endocrine (Hormones)
  • Vascular (Heart and Blood)
  • Lymphatic (Immune System)
  • Respiratory (Breathing)
  • Skin
  • Muscular
  • Skeletal
  • Nervous 
  • Reproductive
  • The Brain
The way that the systems are taught are in isolation, thus the modules in the class room are broken down into easy sections with little cross linking. The merging of ideas may happen with muscle and skeletal as they are seen as connecting tissue, but many therapists I have spoken to literally had the isolated systems explained. 

Notice that fascia, the connective tissue that I have been very excited about on this blog for the past few years, is not taught at all to new Body-Workers and that is saved for advanced teaching. Further concepts and the art of looking deeper into the systems of the body are taken up by a few Body-Workers here in the U.K who want to further their knowledge.  

I spent a year looking at the muscles and bones in the body, and got very good at Latin in the process, and I do believe that they are great part of the body to study and perfect as at the moment we are in a place where the 'Classical Anatomy', (of which we will look at in the next blog), still rules the roost. Also, clients are happy talking about muscles, their functions, the stretch and contraction. It's a great first step along the journey. 

However, I think we become too comfortable with this simplistic look at the body and there is a need to start looking at our amazing bodies with a wider lens. 

Meridians and the Eastern anatomy and philosophies are not touched upon at college, (or on this blog); it is left to the therapist to decide which path they want to take. Either they take the Clinical and Sports, or the Eastern Medicine route. Personally, I truly believe that it is best to stick to the one that is chosen for a good few years. If it took Leonardo Di-Vinci a lifetime to get to grips with the Classical Anatomy, I am personally not going to try to master both road maps!

On the next part of this Anatomical Journey we are going to talk about the Classical Anatomy, which we work with everyday in the Body-Workers Treatment Room. We will take a quick glimpse at the history of Anatomy and what that knowledge has brought us.

Take good care until next time!

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