It’s easy to get confused by the many different approaches to working with and through the body. What follows are brief descriptions of some of the more widely practiced techniques.
Acupressure is based on acupuncture, the traditional method of treatment still taught in Chinese medical schools. Precise points on the body or combinations of them are stimulated by insertion of slender needles to relieve or cure disease. In acupressure, stimulation is accomplished via finger pressure. The oldest book on the subject, the Nei Jing, or The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (University of California Press, 1966) dates from circa 200 B.C., but contains material that is thought to be more ancient.
Philosophically, acupuncture is based on a theory of vital energy or life force that pervades everything in the universe and which must flow properly through the body in order for health to be maintained. 365 acupuncture points have been divided into twelve organ systems. The points belonging to any one system are connected by pathways called meridians, e.g. the lung meridian or the gall bladder meridian. There are also two meridians that run through the center of the body: the conception vessel and the governing vessel.
Alexander Method: Frederick Matthias Alexander was born in Tasmania in 1869 and died in London in 1955. He was an actor, who after losing his voice, regained it by relieving certain muscular tensions in his neck. He began to pay more attention to the way he used the rest of his body and how that affected the way his body worked. He wrote The Use of Self, maintaining that we have lost the natural use of our bodies, often taking on incorrect habits of posture, such as crossed legs and humped backs, from early childhood. These habits can lead to incorrect alignment, which throws the whole muscular system askew, and to common complaints such as back pain and nervous disease. According to Donald Law in A Guide to Alternative Medicine (Doubleday & Co., 1976) teachers of this method are “welcomed in state schools in London where educational authorities have recognized the importance of teaching correct ‘use’ before the bad habits they [children] pick up become ingrained.”
Bioenergetics or Neo-Reichian work is based on the concept of body armour — chronic muscular tensions built up as a result of repressed emotions. Wilhelm Reich’s ideas and techniques were passed on and further developed by Alexander Lowen, who fathered bioenergetics as it is known today. According to this theory, we are our bodies in the sense that they are a living expression of a person’s physical, emotional and mental state. Armouring is dealt with in three ways: its history or origin, its present significance in terms of the personality, and its effect on the body’s energy level. Breathing, feeling and movement are used to resolve inner conflicts, hopefully leading to a release in muscle tension and a concomitant increase in energetic functioning.
Chiropractic was once known as bone-setting. Through spinal adjustments, chiropractors claim to help certain problems created by dislocated vertebrae pressing on spinal nerves. Chiropractors were among the first to use x-rays for diagnosis. They employ no drugs or surgery.
Chiropractic was established around 1895 by Daniel David Palmer as a result of his curing a man who became deaf after working in a cramped position. Upon examining him, Palmer discovered a vertebral misalignment. After he pushed it back in place and kept it there for a week, the man’s hearing returned. Through much study of anatomy and physiology and practical work with his patients, Palmer established the basis of chiropractic: In a state of health, impulses are normally transmitted through the nerves. Any sort of pressure on any part of the nervous system may irritate the nerves causing their transmittal capacity to be exaggerated or diminished.
Do-In or Tao-Yinn is a form of self-massage, which affects body parts without actually contacting them, in a manner similar to acupressure. It uses the same skin points as acupuncture and has the same theories on the origin and cure of disease. Do-In also employs breathing and body exercise to put “. . . man in harmony with the motion of the universe, setting him ‘in tune’ with the infinite . . .” (Jacques de Langre, The Second Book of Do-In, Happiness Press, 1976). According to de Langre, Bodhidharman brought the principles of Do-In to China in 530 B.C. to enable his monks, through the circulation of the breath, to make their bodies clear and light. He is also credited with bringing Buddhism to China from India. According to legend, in an attempt to maintain wakefulness, he cut off his eyelids, from which sprang the tea plant.
Esalen massage, developed at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur and San Francisco, uses many Swedish Massage techniques, plus acupressure and reflexology, to liberate tension and tied-up emotional energy. This technique is fully covered by George Downing in The Massage Book (Bookworks/Random House, 1972), which some say is still the best general-purpose book on massage.
Feldenkrais exercises, named after the technique’s founder, Moshe Feldenkrais, attempt to correct bodily alignment through study and reeducation of muscular behavior patterns. Emotional reeducation is taken into account along with diet, sex and breathing to bring about increased self-awareness. Two of his books are Awareness Through Movement (Harper and Row, 1972), and The Body and Mature Behavior (International University Press, 1949).
Lomi Bodywork is an eclectic system, which combines elements of Rolfing, Polarity and Gestalt therapy. It was started by two San Francisco M.D.’s, Richard Heckler and Robert Hall. Deep-massage is used to free tied-up energy, whether emotional or physical in origin, and to break down connective tissue in a slower, less painful way than Rolfing. The name is taken from Lomi-Lomi, a form of Hawaiian massage.
Mensendieck System. The Mensendieck system, widely taught in Europe, is named after its founder Bess Mensendieck, a sculptor-turned-physician. She claimed that maintenance of correct posture is the primary exercise we need. Her system, reputedly quite successful in treating faulty posture and spinal problems, is described in her book Look Better, Feel Better (Harper and Row, 1954).
Osteopathy may be the most accepted method of alternative healing. The course of study osteopaths must take is very similar to that of M.D.’s. Perhaps the main difference is the emphasis on manipulative therapy and their concept of the “osteopathic lesion”: Abnormalities may occur in a bone, muscle, joint, ligament or other tissue leading to a reduction in blood flow, irritation of nerves, and consequent impairment of organs supplied by these nerves.
Osteopathy was first promulgated by Andrew T. Still (1828-1917), a medical doctor whose three children died of meningitis in 1864. His inability to help them led to a disillusionment with orthodox medicine. Still came to believe that the body has the power to heal itself, and that since God is a God of perfection, man must produce any deviations from perfection himself. Considering drugs poisonous, he primarily used manipulation as treatment.
Today, osteopaths are permitted to dispense drugs and do surgery, both of which they sometimes consider necessary in the treatment of disease. Emphasis is placed on the condition of the whole body and determining the cause of illness. They work with x-rays to examine bony structure, practice body manipulation and are aware of the effects that nutritional deficiencies may have on loss of muscle tone and the falling out of alignment of bones.
Polarity Therapy is a compendium of massage and manipulation techniques developed by Dr. Randolph Stone, now retired in India. A brochure published by the Polarity Institute (free from Alive Fellowship of Harmonious Living, Star Route, Box 86, Olga, WA 98279) claims that polarity brings “. . . understanding and unity to these aspects of our lives which have seemed fragmented and unrelated: acupuncture, yoga, homeopathy, naturopathy, herbs, iridology, massage therapy, natural childbirth, natural birth control, bio-energetics, dying and death, Christianity, Gestalt therapy, humanistic psychology, astrology, color therapy, reflexology, Bach flower remedies, health foods, family, marriage counseling, Eastern religions, Judaism.” Quite a claim! Polarity is based upon the fundamental yin/yang polarity or duality of the universe. It uses certain tools to effect change: the energy in the hands, body reading and life histories, elimination and healing crises, awareness counseling, food, herbs and flowers, and a form of yoga they call PolarEnergetics. In Health Building, The Conscious Art of Living Well (CRCS Publications, 1962), Dr. Stone writes: “When we are ill and have pains, we think that it is the body which hurts and is sick, when in reality it is the life breaths or Prana Currents in the body which operate it and sustain it, which are all out of balance or coordination in their polarity function of attraction and repulsion. . . . The body itself has no sensation, as it is matter. But these energy currents which permeate and run it are living messengers to the life within at its core, and to the consciousness which is the Soul. All pain is but an obstruction of this energy flow.”
Proskauer massage was developed by Magda Proskauer and is described in The Massage Book as a form of massage tuned to the cycle of the subject’s breath, which “when done correctly leaves one with the sensation of having been massage from the inside by the breath itself.”
Reflexology, also known as foot reflexology or zone therapy, is a type of foot massage that can be used as an aid in the diagnosis and treatment of health problems. It is based on the theory that the foot is a map of the entire body and that every muscle, organ and gland has a set of nerves whose opposite ends are located in the feet. If, for example, a particular organ is out of balance, a sometimes painfully sensitive nodule will form in the corresponding area of the foot. Manipulation of the area helps to relieve imbalance in a manner similar to a needle inserted in an acupuncture point. It is one of the few forms that lends itself easily to self-massage. The foot may also be rolled back and forth on a bottle, a golf ball or “foot roller” designed for that purpose. See Stories the Feet Can Tell by Eunice D. Ingham, P.O. Box 948, Rochester, NY 14603, or Zone Therapy by Anika Bergson and Vladimir Tuchack; Pinnacle Books, 1974.
Rolfing or Structural Integration was developed by Ida Rolf, now in her eighties. It is based on the concept that our connective tissue shrivels and contracts with each emotional crisis, if something is not done to loosen it. Deep muscle massage is employed to realign body structure by manipulating the tough fibrous tissue which covers the muscles, in order that gravity might be kinder and physical symptoms be reduced or eliminated.
Shiatsu is a type of Japanese massage developed during the 18th century. It is a combination of acupuncture and the traditional Amma massage, in which painful spots on the body are pressed and rubbed. Its main purpose is to maintain health through the depression or stimulation of energy flow, but relief can also be given for a variety of ills, such as asthma, myopia and the common cold. See Shiatsu by Tokjiru Nami Koshi, Japan Publications Trading Company.
Swedish massage, started in the 19th century by fencing master and physiologist Peter Henrik Ling, is used by physical therapists in hospitals and rehabilitation centers. It incorporates standard massage strokes to reduce tension and increase the circulation of blood and lymph.
Touch for Health is a form of massage that draws on eastern and western medical practices. One of its basic tenets, propounded by Dr. George Goodheart, is that weak muscles on one side cause muscles on the opposite side to be tight. Treatment is determined by muscle testing and bodily balance is restored by stimulating reflex points. For further information see Touch for Health by John Thie and Mary Marks, De Vorss & Co., P.O. Box 550, Marina Del Ray, CA 90291.