The Mechanics of Miracles

After twelve years of practice, I’m finally getting around to reading Anatomy Trains, by Tom Myers. It’s blowing my mind–not so much because it’s giving me new information, but because it’s describing why my way of doing bodywork has the results it does.

For example, it’s a common thing for a client to come in complaining of neck pain, and wonder why I spend so much time working on their feet. Actually, they don’t wonder; they say things like, “wow, I can feel that all the way up to the top of my head.” They go away thinking I did magic.

But I’m not a magician; neither do I have an encyclopedic knowledge of anatomy (though I’m working to remedy that.) My hands know how to seek the areas of strain in your body, and I don’t assume I know where all of them are. If you have a pain in your hip, I’ll work your hip, but I’ll also work every area that connects to your hip in any direction, which means your whole body.

Because the human body is not built like a brick warehouse. It’s not a pile of units that stack linearly on top of one other from the ground up, dependent upon gravity to keep them stable. It’s more like a knot of Tinker Toys held together by rubber bands; it’s flexible, resilient, and held together by all-over tension. This kind of structure is called tensegrity.


Edward Villella: not a brick warehouse.

What this means in practice is that when one area of your body comes under strain, the whole structure adjusts to distribute that strain. This means that you are capable of absorbing considerably more shock per square inch than a brick warehouse. It also means that your whole body is only as strong as its weakest link. If you’re putting inordinate strain on your right arm over a long period of time, it’s quite possible for this to manifest as chronic failure of your left ankle. (It happened to me.)

One of the phrases in the book that I loved was, “The victim screams, not the thug.” Just because you’re hurting in one place doesn’t mean that spot is the source of the problem. Particularly if you’ve been in pain for more than a day or two, and particularly if the pain isn’t resulting from an obvious, sudden injury, it’s much more likely to be a result of compensatory strain.

Recently I had a client–a dancer–declare, “when I cough, I get an agonizing pain in my piriformis.” I worked her piriformis, of course, but didn’t find any significant adhesions, certainly nothing that would cause ‘agonizing pain.’ So in addition to my regular sequence of back, hips, legs, feet, arms and neck, I worked her rib cage. She said, “that’s interesting, nobody has done this before. Feels amazing.”

While she was dressing, I heard experimental coughing sounds coming from the treatment room. She emerged to report, “I can cough without crippling myself!” Further experiments will continue.