What Makes Ortho-Bionomy State of the Art

The Evolvement of the Original Concept ALPI’ve been learning and practising Ortho-Bionomy for nearly 30 years now and I’ve recently been reflecting on how I continue to be impressed with the effectiveness and power of this work. The principles of going with the body, tracking ease and functionality and activating the body’s self balancing mechanisms still create amazing results and long-lasting changes for my clients, my students and for myself.

One of the reasons for this is that I believe Ortho-Bionomy has been and continues to be a cutting edge type of bodywork and somatic therapy. Even though the fundamental techniques have remained essentially the same, this work is innovative and pioneering even 40 years after it was developed. And now there is more research into and discoveries about the workings of the body/mind which confirms what we already know: the capacity for the body and the mind to change is hardwired into our systems and Ortho-Bionomy is highly effective in connecting us with this inherent capacity.

In my mind there are five components of Ortho-Bionomy that make it state of the art.

Mindfulness – Appreciating the value of presence

The Ortho-Bionomy principles of non-attachment to outcome and focusing on the therapeutic contact means that what we notice is the experience of the present moment. We slow down and take time to be with the patterns, stresses and imbalances under our hands and our noticing stimulates the self-regulating capacity of the body to emerge.

As we know, change can only occur in the present moment so the practice of noticing invites the whole of the person to engage in the natural re-balancing process. Whether it’s the structural organisation of Phase Four, the reflexive responsiveness of Phase Five or the relational dynamics of Phase Six we track and interact with what the body is presenting in the moment and without trying to fix the body or change something that has happened in the past.

Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System – Mobilising the resources of wellbeing

Research now clearly identifies that the proper functioning and tone of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is fundamental to our experience of wellbeing. The balancing role that the PNS plays in our self-regulation has always been known. But now there is a clear relationship between strengthening the PNS system and our ability to feel healthy and in balance.

Because we go with what the body is doing there is no resistance and we can activate the body’s “yes” response. We foster the sensation of deep relaxation from within the body rather than trying to make the body relax. The PNS is the primary director of that yes response.

Stimulating the Joint Mechanoreceptors – Natural re-organisation

We focus on the positions and movements of the structures of the body and how they relate to the rest of the body through the neurological feedback of proprioception. These movements and positions stimulate the neruo/physical mechanisms that create change in the body’s ability to track itself and to re-organise itself in a relaxed way.

Instead of overloading the nervous system we’re working with it to activate the natural resourcing mechanisms. And the body is much more likely to change when it’s feeling truly relaxed and in the “yes” mode.

Focus on Functionality – The what affects the how

Our sessions are not about fixing or healing the body but rather about activating more efficient functional use patterns. By focusing on what’s working (what’s functional) rather than the dysfunction we bring attention to the self-righting reflexes and the body responds by freeing up more functional capacity.

We also place a strong emphasis on self care, both in terms of exercises to do to strengthen the body but to also heighten our sensory experiences. We notice more and recognise that we potentially have more options in how we respond to the stressors that impact us every day.

No Pain to Release Pain – The power of the path of ease

When we experience pain we trigger the body’s reactive and protective responses. By focusing on comfort we enable the body to relax and stimulate its restorative impulses which happen both structurally and systemically.

Trying to affect change through coercion of the body seldom works well. “No pain, no gain” has been disproven again and again and in the bodywork realm there is increasing evidence that you cannot force long-lasting change to occur. When we follow the path of ease change literally becomes “effort-less”. Of course we need to use effort to change long-standing patterns, but that effort can still needs to be within the functional ease of the body.

So how long can Ortho-Bionomy continue to be leading edge? I think that Arthur Lincoln Pauls, the founder and developer of Ortho-Bionomy, put it succinctly in his statement of the philosophy: “The evolvement of the Original Concept”. If Ortho-Bionomy and Ortho-Bionomists continue to evolve we will ALWAYS be state of the art.

How to choose the right self care exercises for your client

Self careSo you’ve worked with your client and have addressed the primary areas of concern. Before the end of the session you want to make sure that you give her something to do to continue the work that you did together. But how do you know which exercise(s) to include?

The longer I practise the more I’ve realised the importance of self care exercises for clients to utilise after and between sessions. One of the challenges for a practitioner can be determining which self care exercise to recommend, especially if a client has several different issues that he or she is confronting. Here are 5 questions that I use to help me evaluate the appropriate excersises:

1. What are the goals that I and the client want to accomplish? These exercises can be utilised for a variety of purposes. They can be used to reconnect the client’s awareness to his or her body, they can be used to release imbalances, they can re-educate posturally, or they can strengthen and tonify an area. Being clear about the goal will help you pinpoint the most effective exercise for the client.

2. What is the client’s capacity to understand or sense what is going on in his/her body? If they have a clear somatic sense of themselves I maybe able to suggest some exercises that are focused on strengthening or retraining the affected area. For those clients for whom tracking sensations in their bodies is new or difficult then I may suggest exercises for the purpose of starting to establish that sensing skill. Regardless, it’s very important that the client is able to understand how to do the exercise or what the exercises is trying to achieve. If they don’t then they are much more likely not to do it.

3. Which exercise and how much follow through are they likely to do? People are busy. They also want to know everything that they can do to get better. Each exercise has a particular function or combination of functions: releasing imbalances, strengthening an area or specific structural response and/or re-education or retraining. By identifying the function of the exercise and being realistic about how much a client will do it’s then possible to suggest or craft an exercise specifically tailored to the client’s needs. Plus I’m always aware that sometimes there are restrictions due to injury or lack of mobility that will require me to modify an exercise. The goal is for the client to be successful in achieving the desired outcome.

4. How much information will the client be able to retain? We all know what it’s like just getting off of the table after a session. We’ve just had a lot of work and we may be a bit disoriented. Sometimes our clients might not be in a position to learn or retain much new information. It’s a good idea to provide them with additional support by writing things down, using their smartphone to video the exercise for them, or have handouts that you prepared ahead of time. Help make it as easy as possible for them to remember what to do and what the exercise is good for. And only 1 or 2 exercises at the most – less is more!

5. What is the follow up plan? It’s good to think not only about the plan between now and the next session but also the plan over the course of several sessions. Is the focus a progression from releasing exercises to postural re-education exercises? Or is the focus self care maintenance? What would we like to see changed or strengthened by the next session? When we and our clients set specific goals clients are more likely to do the exercises and it will be clearer for us as practitioners to make modifications or changes to the exercises that they’re doing. After all, our clients’ goal is increased comfort and functionality.

Having these questions in mind make sure that I don’t overload my client with too much information and at the same time make sure that she/he knows what to do, what to look out for, and ultimately to be successful!

Embodied Presence

Recently I watched an HBO documentary about an exhibit done by the well-known and controversial performance artist Marina Abramovic held at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 2010. The exhibit was called “The Artist is Present” and consisted of  two chairs and a table with Abramovic (“The Artist”) sitting in one chair with the other chair available for anyone in the museum to come and sit across from her. As they sat, no words were exchanged, no signalling, just Abramovic being present with the person for as long as that person cared to sit there. It quickly became obvious that for many people  something significant happened as they met her gaze and became aware of her focused attention on them. Many people had profound experiences whilst just simply being there. And Abramovic was also transformed by the experience, not just from sitting with people at least 8 hours a day nearly every day for 3 months but from the “energy dialogue” as she calls it with over 1500 people.

The experience of watching that dynamic has been with me as I’ve been working with clients. I’ve been aware that a significant component of the work we do with clients is interwoven with our endeavour to be present with clients and model for them how to be present with themselves.

I’m struck by how the study of Ortho-Bionomy cultivates this embodied presence in ourselves and in the therapeutic dynamics with our clients. In fact, the very first principles and techniques that we learn are all about embodiment:

“Practitioner comfort is just as important as client comfort.”

It’s obvious that in order to help someone experience themselves in an embodied way we as practitioners need to model that for our clients. By starting with our comfort as practitioners we can more readily help our clients feel more comfortable. We’ve changed the focus from discomfort to what is easy and already functional. We’re starting from a place of wholeness – within ourselves and with the expectation of finding that within our client.  We’re receptive and relaxed and our task is to find what’s functional within our client and within us as well as.

“Non-attachment to outcome.”

We don’t set out to follow a specific agenda or protocol. Instead we engage in an on-going process which requires us to be even more observant to the responses to our interactions with our client. The advantage is that process allows for openness and curiosity in the course of our exploration of what is going on for our client. There is no requirement that there be a certain way in which a client responds but rather the onus is on us as practitioners to track how the client responds and then interact with those responses. Hence the quality of our attention becomes important.

“Creating space.”

This requires that as a practitioner I need to do more listening than talking or doing. When we create space we invite our client to become present, we support their responsiveness, and we value what the client brings and has to offer in their healing process. By quieting the environment the self-corrective impulses can be recognised and supported. We step back so that the client can step forward.

“Facilitating self-regulating processes.”

For me this is about trust: trust that the body is engaged in an on-going self-corrective process, that we can be present with our client without interfering, and that the “answers”, the functional solutions or healing processes, will emerge.  And because they emerge from our client’s direct experience there is a greater likelihood of being able to respond or act differently.

Engaging from a state of embodied presence we model the state from which change happens – spontaneously and generatively. And thereby allowing the change to be profound and deep.

And not only is our client transformed by embodied presence, so, too, are we.

For more information on Marina Abramovic the documentary on her performance installation check out their website: www.marinafilm.com

The Power of Non-attachment

For me one of the most amazing aspects of doing Ortho-Bionomy is the practice of “non-attachment”. It certainly doesn’t mean that outcomes in a session don’t matter or that I don’t care about what happens in the session. Instead I believe that it becomes the ultimate form of caring – caring enough to truly allow the self-corrective process to unfold, trusting that the self-organising mechanisms are working, and supporting the body’s ability to function with the maximal amount of ease. Continue reading

Can you tell if you’re doing too much in a session?

One of the fundamental principles of Ortho-Bionomy is to do the least amount necessary to facilitate the body’s capacity for self regulation and self balancing. But sometimes we can end up doing too much or what we might call “over working” our client which can greatly reduce the effectiveness of the work or stimulate an exaggerated response. Continue reading