Bodywork: what n why?

What is Bodywork?

Bodywork is a collective term for many hundred modalities of somatic therapy.  Some, are hands-on, e.g., osteopaths, sports massage, shiatsu, Rolfing, chiropractic, and structural integrationists. Others, such as yoga, Qigong, Feldenkrais, and Alexander Technique, involve mindful movements and postural adjustments.  

The difference between modalities depends two main things: the practitioner’s concept of the body (their model of how the body works), and their preferred way of thinking.

Those anchored in the biomedical model of Western medicine are considered complementary therapists.  Others, based on alternative models of the body (such as meridian theory), are considered alternative therapists.  

Although modern medicine is evidence-based, there is still a tendency to split 'mind' therapies from 'body' therapies, and even to split the physical body into functionally and structurally isolated parts. We will therefore find some bodyworkers who address only localised physical problems while others acknowledge the system-level integration of function and structure (e.g. a foot problem can cause a neck problem). Bodyworkers who address the interdependence between physical, emotional and psychological conditions are often described as mind-body or holistic practitioners (although the term ‘holistic’ has been so devalued by misuse as to be almost meaningless). 

The way a practitioner processes information—the way they think—is also a major difference between modalities. According to psychologists, we humans have two main ways of thinking, known as rational-analytical and experiential-intuitive. We all use both methods of thinking but habitually trust one more than the other. A rational-analytical thinker will assess, diagnose and decide on a mode of treatment for a physical problem. An experiential-intuitive thinker will establish a sensory dialogue of action-reaction allowing intuitive insights to guide the treatment. At the extremes, these types of thinkers do not understand each other and so, as a receiver of bodywork, you are likely to get the best results from a practitioner whose modus operandi you understand or, at least, appreciate.

What is the role of bodywork?

Medicine has become synonymous with pharmacological intervention: medicate physical ills, medicate psychological ills. Therapy, on the other hand, has been dominated by counselling, with a recent shift towards self-regulation of behavior via mindfulness practices.  But direct interaction with the physical body has been neglected, both in medicine and therapy.  Even physiotherapy—the hands-on interface of modern medicine—has become largely a hands-off provider of advisory exercises for physical dysfunctions.   Where (in any of this) is any awareness of the irrefutable interdependence between psychological, emotional and physical well-being?  The research is there. The evidence is there. But the old school approach, of treating mind and body separately, persists.

Bodywork at its best is a form of therapy in which physical, mental, and emotional interdependencies are addressed at the same time via the one thing that does all three—the interoceptive system of the body-brain.