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  • Writer's pictureanja frydendal

Bodywork for your Working Body

Allyssa F. Skowyra, DC, performing bodywork on a patient at the Moms on The Mountain benefit event.

Bodywork Defined

Bodywork. Just what is it, anyway? And I'm not talking about the outer shell of a motor vehicle.

According to Wikipedia, bodywork is "any therapeutic or personal development technique that involves working with the human body in a form involving manipulative therapy, breath work, or energy medicine. Bodywork techniques also aim to assess or improve posture, promote awareness of the 'bodymind connection' rather than the 'mind-body connection', or to manipulate the electromagnetic field surrounding the human body and affecting health." Bodywork may be used as an adjunct to medical treatment, or it may be prescribed as a form of physical therapy for certain conditions. (1)

This means, bodywork may encompass a variety of massage modalites ranging from Abhyanga to Zero Balancing. Thai massage, Deep Tissue, Myofascial Release, and Acupressure (all modalities that I work with and draw from) all fall under the category of "bodywork", but it is not limited to manual therapy. Reiki, meditation, yoga, Pilates, even Aikido and the Hakomi method may be incorporated into a session or considered bodywork.

Anja (that's me!) addressing the adductor muscles of the leg during a Thai Bodywork session at my office inside The Wellness Center.

Picking at bones: What's the difference between Bodywork and Massage?

It is generally agreed upon that massage is a form of bodywork. However, according to some, massage must fit into certain parameters to be classified as "massage". For instance, according to this site, massage as it is defined utilizes lubricants such as oil or lotion to decrease friction between the practitioner's hands and the client's skin, and touts that most forms of bodywork use little-to-no lubrication whatsoever.

If we follow this line of thought, then modalities such as Hawaiian Lomi-Lomi, Ayurvedic Abhyanga, and some forms of Lymphatic Drainage therapy would not be considered forms of bodywork, while other modalities such as Thai massage, would. I like to argue that as long as your treatment allows you to be present in your body and works to improve your condition from the moment when you walked in the door to the moment you walked out of it, we are treading in the realm of bodywork.

According to Massachusetts law, certain forms of "Asian Bodywork Therapy" aren't even supposed to be referred to as massage, and such practitioners are to refer to use the terms, instead, "bodywork", "bodyworker", and "bodywork therapist", even though this same state defines massage as "the systematic treatment of the soft tissues of the body by use of pressure, friction, stroking, percussion, kneading, vibration by manual or mechanical means, range of motion for purposes of demonstrating muscle excursion or muscle flexibility and nonspecific stretching. Massage therapy may include the use of oil, ice, hot and cold packs, tub, shower, steam, dry heat or cabinet baths, in which the primary intent is to enhance or restore the health and well-being of the client." (2)

As anyone who has ever received Thai bodywork, Tui-Na or Shiatsu can tell you, there is an awful lot of kneading, percussion and vibration involved, although I supposed it's the "non-specific stretching" part where they lose the definition - there are a lot of specific stretches used in all three modalities. There is a theory that goes around certain massage practitioner groups that by keeping "Asian bodywork therapies" separate from "massage", it allows certain establishments such as the various $29-Foot-Massage parlors to stay in existence. While this can allow for some individuals to make a living, and possibly avoid having to pay the fees and deal with the state massage boards, it can also provide cover for the ever-concerning problem of human trafficking.

Some states require a license to practice massage therapy. Here in California, Certification is only required in certain towns or counties, and it's up to each therapist to be up to date on local laws and legislature. Because "Thai massage" may instead be considered "Thai bodywork," certification may or may not be required. Additionally, the person you receive a Thai bodywork session may or may not be a massage therapist - they may be a Yoga instructor, personal trainer, or chiropractor. Sure, while I could tell you that you must see a Certified Massage Therapist while you're in California, or that the only effective way to receive effective bodywork is from someone who has spent years learning, touching and researching, that is simply not always the case. Not every person needs or wants a one-on-one session with a massage therapist. For many Yoga instructors, their Practice and Thai bodywork go hand-in-hand. More and more chiropractors are trained in alternative modalities and soft-tissue techniques such as myofascial release to enhance their ability to perform adjustments. And techniques such as AIS (Active Isolated Stretching) or NRT (Neural Reset Therapy) can so easily go hand-in-hand with a personal-training session.

Touching on the Other Types of Bodywork

But enough about Thai bodywork. (Can you tell that it's a favorite of mine?) As discussed above, "bodywork" is an umbrella term for a whole passel of modalities, massage or not.

To paraphrase one of my outstanding massage teachers, we live in a forward-driven world. Many people spend their days in front of a computer. Some spend hours in the car, commuting to and fro, or even driving across country on a regular basis. Chefs are focused forward, chopping, stirring and flipping. Students, working hard on their assignments, hunched over their desks. Electrical engineers, farmers, carpenters, all focusing with their hands, heads, necks, forward and slightly downward. We come home from long, long days focused on the things in front of us, and when we get home, our necks hurt, it's sore between our shoulder blades, or maybe in our lower backs. And to be honest, as a massage therapist, lots of us are pretty forward-focused, too. Whether we are using our hands, feet or forearms, we're often looking forward and applying pressure in the same direction.

Regardless of your profession, any time you are doing the same thing, over and over, for multiple days at a time, your body begins to form movement patterns and will change your physical posture to reflect it. I'm not going to lie: I love video games. I also love knitting, crocheting, sewing, and lots of fine, fiddly, crafting-type work. However, I've come to learn that these hobbies aren't the best thing for my longevity as a bodyworker. I've learned, instead, to take up hobbies that include many opposing movements from the patterns that I follow at work.

Bellydance was the first alternative form of bodywork for me. It addresses your posture from both carriage as well as your dance form. Feet hip-width apart, a gentle bend in the knees, lengthening your spine, tucking your pelvis, shoulders rolled back and ribcage lifted, an imaginary grapefruit under your chin and thumbs just outside of your ASIS (that's the little bony bit on the front of your hips). Although there may be internal rotation of your forearms, your body is still open at the shoulder, instead of collapsed. Any time your hands are above your head, you are training to move your scapula down your back. Engagement of your core is key, allowing your body to move and at the same time protecting your back.

When finances allowed it, I worked with a personal trainer (and then did lots of group training classes at that particular gym). She worked with me on my posture, and strengthening the areas of my body that were weak (essentially, my left side). Having a trainer is to this day one of my favorite types of bodywork - it allowed me to gain endurance at work, maintain my strength during session, and was an excellent form of preventative medicine for repetitive stress injuries.

Most currently, I train in Aikido. I somewhat jokingly refer to it as my osteoporosis-prevention program, as weight-bearing impact is supposed to strengthen the bones in the long run. Aikido truly ticks off the bodywork boxes of manipulative therapy, breath work, posture assessment, and promoting awareness of the bodymind connection. We manipulate our own joints - as well as other people's - in almost every training session. Our posture is frequently corrected by our Sensei (teacher), Senpai (upperclassmen), and partners alike. I can't tell you how many times I've been told to breathe, how to breathe, and most (irritatingly) importantly, when to inhale, exhale, and hold my breath. Spiritual and meditative practices come into play during both Zazen and Iaido. Going to seminars will test your stamina as well as your mental and emotional fortitude. It is truly a practice that can tear you down to your core, and ask that you give a little more.

There are many other forms of beneficial bodywork out there as well. My office is two doors down from a hot yoga studio (which is a little intimidating for me as I'm not too keen on sweating), and there are many other yoga studios available to help you find balance in your daily lives. The NIA Technique is a mind/body physical conditioning program. While "NIA" initially stood for "Non-Impact Aerobics", it has evolved to include neurological integrative practices and teachings. Tai-Chi and Qigong come in many forms these days, such as Inner Radiance Qigong which typically takes under an hour to complete. Both Tai-Chi and Qigong address breath, movement, and moving your blood (qi/chi/ki) through the various organs of the body to promote health and healing.

Why should I Bother with Bodywork?

As listed above, there are many different forms of bodywork available, and some of them don't even require physical contact with another person. The idea behind bodywork is to improve the state of your body. It allows you to check in with your physical form and perhaps address ongoing issues. You can always recruit the help of a professional bodyworker to assist you in achieving your personal, physical goals. One of the biggest perks of bodywork is that you don't always need someone else to help you with it. You can learn the method that works best for you, and do the work on your own.

That's probably a terrible thing for me to say from a marketing standpoint, but there it is. There are so many massage therapists out there who can't wait to put their hands on everyone, and think the World will be a Better Place if just everyone would get on their table.

I have a slightly different perspective. I have a healthy set of boundaries, both personal and professional. I'm selective about who touches me and how. I fully understand the lack of desire for having someone else touch me. I am a strong believer that there is the right bodyworker for every body, and I am comfortable in the knowledge that that person may be different than me. If you don't like my style, if you don't like my technique, you can tell me what you're looking for and I will do my best to send you in the direction that may be best for your needs.

A typical bodywork session with me starts with a preliminary intake process, which is why I ask you to arrive 10-15 minutes before your first appointment. Every subsequent session includes a discussion of your personal goals for your time spent with me, and time on the mat or table. If you are curious about what is happening during your treatment, you are always welcome to ask. I may talk about what I'm feeling with my hands, or ask you to move limbs or engage certain muscles. Post-treatment, I may show you some self-care methods (if applicable) or even give you a little bit of homework to maintain the work that you received.

Working with a professional bodyworker can be very eye-opening as to what is happening within your body, and can help you find direction if you need help with your next steps.

Affirmation for the Week:

"Every step towards my health and wellness I take today

allows me to grow stronger every day."

Are you one of the many living in a forward-focused world? What do you do to counter the effects? Leave a comment below.

If you would like to schedule a treatment, please click here.

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