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Tom Myers on Spatial Medicine: Change the Body to Change the Mind
How do we foster health, well-being, and healing? Medicine has one approach, primarily using antibiotics, pharmaceuticals, and surgery to cure disease. Traditional types of medicine apply another approach, relying on herbs and other natural remedies to restore balance and activate the body’s own healing responses.
However, there is another way of fostering health and healing, notes Anatomy Trains author Tom Myers in the video below. According to Tom, we can literally foster greater well-being and healing in mind and body by changing the body.
How can we change the mind by changing the body? How can we make a different person by changing the structure of the body? How can we make different physiology by releasing tension patterns in the soft tissues, which in turn changes how the body is held in space? These are the questions Tom has dedicated his life to exploring.
Most people live their lives divorced from the body, Tom notes. And in this lies the root of much disease and mental, emotional suffering. Tom tells the story of how he himself started out that way.
“When I went to school, I was an awkward kid. I was the 90-pound weakling in the back of the comic books that gets sand kicked in his face and my body was ignored.
I remember it very distinctly because in fifth grade I was playing baseball and I struck out for the third time. I remember my eyes sweeping around and seeing the captain of the baseball team and seeing his disappointment when Myers struck out again.
I made a decision at that point, I said, all right, you go ahead and play these stupid physical games and I'll play the mental games and we'll see who comes out on top.
That was a decision that I made at nine years old, 10 years old to abandon my body. I was an adult from then on. I never had a childhood after that. And I turned my attention completely to adult things, completely ignored my body. “
He stayed like this until the age of 23, which was when he met Ida Rolf. He was so impressed with her insights into the mental-emotional effects of soft tissue holdings that he started studying with her and learned her system of soft tissue release, Rolfing. “That really changed my life and brought me back into my body in a different way,” notes Tom. “Ida brought me back not only into my body but back into my emotions.”
Spatial Medicine: How Does Changing the Body Change the Person?
How can changing the way the body organizes itself in space, in turn, change the person's behavior, change the way the person is in the world, change the spirit of that person.
These are the questions asked by what Tom refers to as Spatial Medicine. Professions like osteopathy, chiropractors, physical therapists, athletic coaches, and yoga teachers are all working within this realm. They are looking at how the body is held in space and how misalignment and maladaptation of our structural shape cause numerous health issues, both physical, mental, and emotional.
As renowned British osteopath Leon Chaitow put it:
“[A]lmost all health problems, can be seen to be the result of processes of failed adaptation – of ‘decompensation’ – the result of repetitive adaptive loads, involving biochemical, biomechanical or psychosocial (or combination of these) stressors, interacting with the unique cocktail of acquired and inherited characteristics of the person involved.
That model leads logically to the conclusion that ‘treatment’ should firstly not add to the adaptive melt-down, and should not just mask the symptoms, but should ideally be directed at reducing the stressor load, and enhancing the normal self-regulating functions of the individual.”
Spatial Medicine is a realm of health and healing that is largely overlooked by the mainstream medical profession. For example, in a condition like depression, allopathic medicine would turn to pharmaceuticals like Prozac, with all the pros and cons that entails.
A practitioner of Spatial Medicine, instead, would look at the posture of the person and see if he or she was slumped over and stuck on the exhalation part of the breath cycle. The treatment then could include stretching, bodywork, or breathing exercises to free the flow of the breath and correcting the problem by correcting the shape of the movement, i.e. the breathing pattern. It would also include prescribing exercise routines aiming at free the flow of Prana, life force energy, in the body.
Another example is the pervasive effect on our health of our biomechanical alignment, i.e. our posture. One of the first to point out that our posture is integrally linked to our health was orthopedic surgeon Joel Goldthwait. He pointed out that postural imbalance profoundly impacts all tissues in the body, including the abdominal organs:
“The main factors which determine the maintenance of the abdominal viscera in position are the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles, both of which are relaxed and cease to support in faulty posture.
The disturbances of circulation resulting from a low diaphragm and ptosis may give rise to chronic passive congestion in one or all of the organs of the abdomen and pelvis, since the local as well as general venous drainage may be impeded by the failure of the diaphragmatic pump to do its full work in the drooped body.
Furthermore, the drag of these congested organs on their nerve supply, as well as the pressure on the sympathetic ganglia and plexuses, probably causes many irregularities in their function, varying from partial paralysis to overstimulation. All these organs receive fibers from both the vagus and sympathetic systems, either one of which may be disturbed. . . . .
These disturbances, if continued long enough, may lead to diseases later in life. Faulty body mechanics in early life, then, becomes a vital factor in the production of the vicious cycle of chronic diseases and presents a chief point of attack in its prevention . . . When the human machine is out of balance, physiological function cannot be perfect; muscles and ligaments are in an abnormal state of tension and strain. A well-poised body means a machine working perfectly, with the least amount of muscular effort, and therefore better health and strength for daily life.”
The potential for fostering health and healing via Spatial Medicine – working with the structural dynamics of the body - is vast, Tom notes. How you stretch can actually affect not just the muscles and the joints, but all the cells of your body and how all the cells of your body function.
Osteopaths, bodyworkers and chiropractors use their hands to work with changing the structural dynamics of a person’s body. As yoga teachers and yoga therapists we use our voice, and perhaps our hands to give corrections and our body to demonstrate poses. Bodyworkers change tissues with their hands, yoga teachers with their words.
But it is the same thing of addressing issues with how the body organizes itself in space. As yoga practitioners and yoga teachers, we are changing the way people shape themselves in space. And that in turn can both prevent numerous health issues, and literally, change the mind as the body shifts how it organizes itself in space.