By Karrie Osborn
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, December/January 2004.
Looking at the evolution of modern massage therapy over the last 40 years shows both an exponential growth and subsequent factioning of modalities within the larger parent field. We need only look at the internally divided camps of certain bodywork genres (i.e., Rolfing and reiki to name but a few) to see a micro-cosmic representation of how an even larger gap has developed between structural work and energy work throughout the years. As a result of that chasm, the spirit once found in the union of structure and energy has been lost.
But does it need to be? Does such a division, or in some cases specialization, of therapy negate looking at the wholism of an individual’s health? Does a unity of structure and energy provide the best opportunity for client health, and is it in that unity that spirit lives?
David Lauterstein thinks so. “It is neither in the structural realm nor in the energetic that the real power, the evolutionary leverage, of bodywork lies. It is precisely in their union,” says Lauterstein, author of Putting the Soul Back in the Body and co-founder of the Lauterstein-Conway Massage School. “It is the marriage of body, mind and spirit united in facilitating the health of others.”
Lauterstein is one of a small, but steadily growing group of practitioners who believes looking at the body through the eyes of both structural and energy therapies provides the greatest benefit. But can that sort of union be found in today’s bodywork disciplines?
Just as Western medicine was once an integration of science and religion, bodywork was once a marriage of structure and spirit. In fact, many believe the anointing of oil referenced throughout the Bible is actually “sacred massage.” And it was in the ancient Greek tradition that religious temples were home to massage, a therapy sought after as a means to find one’s way to greater consciousness and a path to health.
Massage in the 1960s is a more recent example of how structure and energy together once drove the tenets of bodywork. It was during that modern-day revitalization of massage that there seemed to be a more unifying force in the nature of the work. But with specialization and medicalization, that has now fallen by the wayside. Today, the bodywork camps of structure and energy have in many ways become almost as divided as that of Republicans and Democrats.
Yet, as the last 40 years have proven, this is not a field of stagnation. New opportunities and new theories for the success of bodywork are calling on the spirit for renewal.
Research Proves Out
Today’s research shows that the division between science and religion as it exists in the Western medical model is slowly changing. It’s happening not only with patients and their expectations, but also with the delivery of their healthcare options.
For example, in a USA Today Weekend poll, 65 percent of the respondents said it was helpful for doctors to discuss spiritual beliefs with them, but only 10 percent of physicians actually do.1 A pulmonary outpatient study at the University of Pennsylvania said 66 percent agreed a physician’s inquiry about spiritual beliefs would strengthen their trust in their doctor; 94 percent of those who said spirituality was important to them wanted their physicians to address their spiritual beliefs.2
Just 11 years ago, only three medical schools had courses on spirituality and health. A decade later, that number had grown to 75. And, at the George Washington University School of Medicine, spirituality is an integral part of the four-year medical school curriculum so students learn to utilize it in their delivery of care.3
“It is critical that we as physicians and healthcare providers listen to all aspects of our patients’ lives that can affect their decision-making and their coping skills,” writes Christina Puchalski, M.D.4 Puchalski goes on to write one of the advantages to becoming familiar with a patient/client’s spiritual history is that “an understanding of the patient’s spirituality is integral to whole patient care.”5
This all points to a new model — one that not only has merit in the Western medical paradigm, but in all forms of healthcare. Marilyn Schlitz, Ph.D, vice president for research and education at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and senior scientist at the Complementary Medicine Research Institute at California Pacific Medical Center, says there is no question spirituality is being integrated into Western medicine at this point. Noting both the increasing number of spirituality and health centers across the country and the objective health outcome studies being undertaken, Schlitz says there is cause for the model to change. “Our feeling of well-being is tied in with our spirit, our sense of connection to a greater whole,” she says. “(Then) what,” she asks, “is the nature of medical practice if it doesn’t include the consciousness, soul and spirit of medical practitioners themselves?”
Uniting the Whole
Right now we’re suffering in this whole experiment of managed care,” Schlitz says. In addition to skyrocketing costs, Schlitz says even with all our advancements, our health statistics are not as favorable as other industrialized nations with fewer resources.
Noting the renewed relationship between medicine and faith, we must recognize the applicability to massage and bodywork as well. While it might seem unconventional, uncomfortable and maybe even personally unethical to think of bringing faith and spirit into the massage room, the truth is that the American public is asking just that of all its caregivers.
“It’s an interesting time,” says Schlitz, who, as a former member of the Advisory Council for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, has spent a considerable amount of time weighing the subject of spirituality and health.
“We have made progress, but we’ve lost something in the process. We have these remarkable technological advancements, with more and more emphasis on reductionism, the molecular approach. On the other hand, in this lens through which we see healing occur, we lose the whole. It’s not about denouncing the reductionistic approach; it’s about reminding us of the whole.”
Uniting the whole is where Lauterstein envisions bodywork at its best. But how can structural therapists and energy workers find common, unifying ground? “It certainly is not a simple issue,” Lauterstein says. “I am convinced that knowing anatomy, physiology, pathology, as well as a variety of ways of touching including physically and energetically, serves the public welfare better. I believe we need to move, carefully, beyond the mentality that is content with therapy divided up into energy and soft tissue works. I question whether separating energy from structure in our therapy and thinking is really a healthy thing to do.
“I don’t think it’s a marriage of modalities that’s necessarily called for. It’s working with whatever single modality or combination or spontaneously arising way-of-touching that best facilitates the health of the individual client at the moment of therapy. It is the marriage of body, mind and spirit united in facilitating the health of others.”
Put to Action
Randy Cummins, a shiatsu and massage instructor at the Chicago School of Massage Therapy, says the more you work, the more the “divides” start to dissolve. “There’s really no difference between structure and energy,” he says. “Structure is a manifestation of energy. You can help the healing process if you recognize that.”
After 19 years of practice and teaching, Cummins says he’s learned time changes the focus of the work. When you are able to find that unity, he says, and become open to the spirit, “there’s something about that that really opens you up to the opportunities.”
Spirituality is a common denominator in all of us, Cummins says. “It makes it easier when we relate to another person, because we’re really relating to ourselves.” And what if there are differences in religious or spiritual belief between practitioner and client? “There is no separation,” he says of religions. Whether you believe in Christ or Buddha, “at the core of the essence of all religion is the same thing — universal love.”
Cummins explains the importance of spirituality quite simply: “Body-workers raise people’s awareness so they get in touch with their own healing powers, as do prayer and meditation.”
Lauterstein says creating division in bodywork is a potential disservice. “I believe the body is too wondrous not to be familiar with it. Spirituality that is not grounded in earth as well as heaven is just belief. Spirituality is too important to be just left up to religion. The dramatic progress in both psychotherapy, psychoneuroimmunology and modern bodyworks makes highly integrative thinking possible for the first time. It is an evolutionary step I believe we can not afford not to take.”
Schlitz agrees. Integral medicine requires vibrant exchange among peoples of all disciplines. “It’s about linkages, not divisions,” she says.
So what would be the individual benefits of a new healthcare model that incorporates body, mind and spirit? Schlitz says they would be numerous. “It will give people more opportunity. There will be a greater level of discernment, a greater appreciation of healer and patient, and more humanity brought into the encounter.” Schlitz says the individual experience will matter again. “Our culture has denounced the subjective experience, yet the No. 1 factor in health is ‘how do you feel.’”
She says in dealing with the death of a close friend last year, it was that factor which was sorely missed. “She was a Stanford-trained physician with the best knowledge, the best peers, the best opportunity for care. Here’s a person in an extremely powerful position to get the best care and she didn’t. She didn’t get nurtured through the profession. Fortunately friends and family made up for it.” Schlitz says a new model will end that, allowing care to embrace the subjective experience, as well as the objective. “With a new model, the pieces will co-exist. And it will eliminate the confusion in a health crisis.”
In an integral world of health, what we might see one day is a team approach, one where our physician consults with our massage therapist who consults with our psychologist who consults with our chiropractor. Instead of division, there would be cooperation and collaboration.
“I don’t think taking an integral approach means being a master of everything,” Schlitz says. On the contrary, she says it would be asking all therapies and all medicines to be more humble in finding the common ground for the good of the patient/client.
“That’s where this new model is so important,” she says. “Each piece should be respected as a vital piece of the whole.” Then, if there needs to be a worldview shift to maintain integrity of the work, it’s done so without question. She says it will happen one person at a time; one perception at a time.
In the end, in the world of massage and bodywork, it all comes down to the healing power held within our hands. It’s understanding and remembering that wholism is where we started. Should it not be where we end? Dawn Lipthrott, director of the Relationship Learning Center says it well: “Massage can refocus and redistribute energy, relax the body so that all aspects of our being flow more easily, inform us about ourselves, and be an opportunity in and of itself for profound spiritual experience.”6
Karrie Osborn is contributing editor to Massage & Bodywork magazine.