My approach to the re-coordination of dysfunctional and restricted muscular patterns is the synthesis of my 39 years of professional bodywork, training, and research.
I began my career in 1974 as a member of the massage crew at Esalen Institute, where I practiced and taught for 18 years. At Esalen, many innovative kinds of bodywork and movement therapy developed alongside many equally new approaches to cognitive, emotional and spiritual work. From the very beginning, my training and practice was focussed on the integration of the client’s whole being–body, mind and soul.
While at Esalen, I met Dr. Milton Trager and fell in love with his work. I became one of Trager’s earliest students, and I continued training with Dr. Trager from 1976 until his death in 1992. I am currently an anatomy and continuing education instructor for the Trager Institute.
Also while at Esalen, I began pursuing my interest in the scientific basis of bodywork. As I studied the anatomy, physiology and neurology involved in bodywork of various kinds, I developed a series of workshops presenting this material to massage therapists at Esalen, throughout the US, in Europe and Japan. Continued study, teaching and writing led, in nine years time, to the publication of Job’s Body: A Handbook for Bodywork in 1984.
Since that time, I have deepened my understanding and my own effectiveness in Dr. Trager’s work, rubbed shoulders with many practitioners and teachers of other approaches, and developed my own work which has taken shape over the years in the context of all of these influences.
1. THE WORK
What is the Resistance, Release and Re-Coordination Process?
The immediate goals of the process are two-fold:
- The relaxation of the client’s mental state and his or her habituated muscle patterns of posture and movement;
- The active retraining of muscle groups to develop greater range of motion, ease, strength, flexibility and coordination.
The relaxation/release dimension of the work uses a dynamic process of gentle, pleasurable and unintrusive rhythmic movements, compressions, and traction to facilitate a softening and yielding quality of feeling to the tissues and to the mind of the client. Overall muscle tonus is decreased, and specific areas of holding and restriction are addressed. The client begins to develop a sense of deepening sensory awareness and ease in his or her body. Feelings of “softer, lighter, freer” begin to define themselves with more and more clarity.
The guided resistance dimension of the work uses another dynamic process, that of applying specific vectors of resistance–traction or compression–and coaching the client to organize their muscular response in order to effectively and efficiently counter the resistance with their own movement. The extensive groups of muscle cells that are involved in organizing the counter-movements to resistance are awakened consciously, and the process of learning to re-coordinate their intricate patterns of shortening and lengthening and to re-train complex motor nerve firing sequences begins. Resistance vectors and counter-movements are explored and repeated, finding areas of musculature and connective tissue that are not coordinating smoothly with the movements–areas that are not actively engaging, sectors of the movements that are weak, jerky recruitment of muscle groups, limitations of ranges in shortening and lengthening. Through heightened sensory awareness and guided focusing, the client gains conscious control of a new motor learning process, and begins to entrain new, more organized, stronger, more flexible and adaptive movement patterns.
Off the table, the client is then coached to utilize gentle rhythmic exploratory movements on their own to continue deepening the feelings of “softer, lighter, freer,” and to use alternations of deep contractions and lengthenings–“creative writhing”–to further their process of awakening conscious control of their muscular coordination and new organizations of movement.
Results are typically quite dramatic:
- General levels of tonus, stress and tension are significantly lowered.
- The client feels renewed levels of strength, because more muscle cells are recruited and coordinated to accomplish any movement.
- The client experiences greater ease in movement, because muscle cells that have not been actively coordinated are now working synergistically and carrying their part of the effort.
- The client has a heightened and deepened sensory awareness of their tissues and their dynamic interactions in posture and movement.
- The client experiences a new-found sense of empowerment and active engagement with his or her body. Important sources of sensory awareness, self-regulation and adaptability have been awakened, and one begins to re-take possession of one’s being and to actively develop the means of guiding it toward a better future. An inroad to the unconscious–the domain of the body and its processes–has been established.
There is also considerable benefit to the practitioner. Because the process is verbally and physically interactive throughout the session, a sense of mutual cooperation and co-creative participation is established with the client. The barriers often inherent in a therapist/client, expert/naive, doer/receiver, active party/passive party relationship tend to disappear when both parties are mutually responding to one another’s movements. The perspective of the client is just as important as the skill of the therapist. A collaboration is formed that transforms the nature of the relationship. A golden opportunity is presented for the transmission of perhaps the most important lesson of all for clients: They have within themselves the means to regulate their own bodies, and to consciously guide their own development, and to replace old dysfunctional habits with new and better ones. Most experienced therapists know that among the critical factors in effective recovery are the client’s own active participation in their healing processes and the development of their own sense of autonomy and empowerment on their own behalf. The interactive process of Resistance, Release and Re-Coordination facilitates the kind of therapeutic relationship that engages this awareness, for client and practitioner alike.
2. SOME PRINCIPLES THAT UNDERLIE THE WORK
Three Pillars of Healthy Growth and Self-Development
In my experience there are three indispensable elements, each intertwined with the others, that contribute to more conscious motor learning and effective re-coordination of dysfunctional patterns:
- Successful adaptation
If we cannot clearly feel and visualize our bodies and their functional parts and processes, we have limited information with which to manage ourselves. Adequate sensory information is absolutely crucial to our organism’s ability to survive, and beyond survival to thrive. Our neural and connective tissue sensorium penetrates the smallest nooks and crannies of our anatomy, and is capable of relaying fine-textured and detailed feelings and images to the central nervous system, which then uses these feelings and images to orchestrate responses to our body’s needs and our mind’s desires. Without this conscious awareness of our bodies, both general and detailed, there will be serious gaps in our knowledge of how to develop, how to maintain, and how to heal ourselves.
Our cultural heritage has not included much by the way of heightening, or even paying intimate attention to, our somatic sensory awareness. The world of the senses and emotions is inherently a subjective world, and does not fit comfortably within the paradigms of theory and research that permeate our modern scientific world view. And the world of the senses is also sensual, an immersion in the pleasures of pressures and slidings and pushings and pullings that our flesh exerts on itself. In this regard it threatens to run afoul of widely held religious and moral tenets.
The ideas that the ongoing experience of one’s body, in all its subjective and sensual dimensions, might be the reading of a book of endless wisdom and beauty, might be a path of open-ended adventure, might be the most direct connection available to me with both my inner self and all of nature around me–these ideas simply do not occur to many. The fact that these kinds of ideas do not often occur in our educational system or our religious training contributes to a great deal of unnecessary physical, emotional and spiritual suffering.
It is not that we are without sensory stimulation in our modern world. We are inundated by it. But the vast majority of it is visual and auditory, and engages the category of intelligence that communicates through symbols, words and syntaxes of various kinds. Tactile, physical interaction and stimulation, on the other hand, is by and large minimized, and the category of intelligence that communicates through touch, feelings and emotional exchange is consequently relatively unengaged and not exercised.
So when it comes to improving sensory awareness and feeling-level intelligence, we are largely dealing with an absence, a lack that is not experienced as such, a collection of somatic scotomas–areas and dimensions of the body that simply are not “there” for the mind. All therapies that involve touch and movement address in their own way this need for physical self-awareness. As they must if they are to be effective, because without this enhanced sensory information it is not possible to consciously reach the second pillar:
My organism is equipped with many mechanisms of self-regulation–autonomic control of heart rate, blood pressure, digestive activity; sensory triggers to monitor thirst, temperature, light intensity, and so on. Among the most extensive and intricate self-regulatory systems we possess are those that monitor and control our motor coordination. The majority of the central nervous system’s neuronal activity is devoted to managing posture and movement in the field of gravity.
How long is a muscle? How rapidly is it shortening or lengthening? What is its new resting length? How much tension load is delivered to tendons as the action is taking place (exactly how much resistance is encountered)? What angles is a particular joint moving through? How much pressure is delivered to the bone surfaces within the joint? How are other tissues effected by the posture or movement? All of these streams of sensory information are crucial to the process of organizing all of our body’s gestures. Better motor performance is to a large degree dependent upon clearer sensory perception.
Most of the complexly sequenced synaptic events that lead to a successful movement are taking place on unconscious levels most of the time. They are manifestations of the body’s innate intelligence. If this were not the case, I would never succeed in raising a glass to my lips; simply too much is involved for me to track consciously and coordinate split-second responses to ongoing movements. Well and good. But this also means that a great deal of my normal muscular activity–particularly repeated and habituated reactions and patterns of movement–is occurring on an unconscious level. And as habituations, “acquired reflex responses,” they perpetuate themselves unconsciously, even when it is my desire to do something else.
Raising our conscious awareness of these streams of sensory information, and of the limitations to our desired motions presented by habituated patterns, is the most effective way to re-coordinate and train my muscles to adopt new patterns and more efficient, pain-free ways of doing things. Sensory awareness gives us access to self-regulation. And that in turn leads to the third pillar:
The world is continually prodding us to adapt to changing circumstances in our lives. Keeping pace with our growing bodies as children, new shoes, new car, new jobs, shifting social relations, illnesses, injuries, emotional traumas–all these things and more, great and small, challenge us to modify our physical behaviors in order to maintain comfort and functionality.
Fortunately we are creatures that are adapted to adapt. We have many, many ways of shifting our organism’s processes to meet new demands. When we are able to expand our sensory awareness, and through greater awareness access our self-regulating capacities, we are far more able to adapt intelligently, and to accommodate our live’s circumstances with less stress, discomfort and hinderance and with more ease, strength and flexibility. How well we consciously manage our muscles is to a large degree the measure of our individual ability to adapt.
These three pillars of self-awareness, self-regulation and successful adaptation are the foundation of Resistance, Release and Re-Coordination training.
Some Observations That The Books Didn’t Tell Me
After working directly for many years with thousands of bodies, it is my feeling that some of what we find reiterated in many textbooks regarding our learning, organization and control of muscular movement have not really been very helpful in helping us to understand how things actually work in the living organism.
For one thing, we are not mechanical constructions like the models frequently referred to in descriptions of muscle/joint relationships. We are not a collection of bars, hinges, pulleys and winches. We are shape-changers, and our mode of movement more closely resembles the shape-changing processes of an amoeba’s or a white blood cell’s locomotion than it does that of a robot. (These single-cell organisms actually use the same myosin and actin ratcheting interactions that we do to change shape). Visualizing muscle/joint relationships from this point of view presents a very different picture from many that are fostered by typical structural and kinetic models.
For another thing, our nervous system–and the many systems that support it with nourishment and information–is not really anything like a telephone switch-board, or even a supercomputer. There is simply no precedent in any of our invented devises that has anything like the dense interconnectedness, the enormous number of feedback loops, the structural complexity and functional plasticity of the human nervous system. Digital hardware/software models do not yield us a true understanding of the ways in which living consciousness and movement intersect.
Stemming from these basic observations are a number of corollaries that for me have been important to bear in mind as I am working with clients and developing ways to help them:
- All movement is structured in response to resistance. Gravity is the primary form of resistance we encounter throughout our lives, and approximately 90% of our central nervous system’s activity is devoted to assessing its shifting vectors of resistance in our bodies and organizing our stability and movements in response to gravity.
- Our musculature is our largest sense organ. The sensory qualities that it imparts to our minds are invisible ones, but ones that are absolutely essential to our motor organization–weight, mass, density, inertia, momentum, the sense of effort. The sensory components of our sensorimotor systems are exquisitely sensitive to these properties.
- No single muscle ever accomplishes any single action. For movements to take place some muscles must shorten, others must lengthen, others must anchor and support extensive parts of the skeleton for an organized movement to occur, and all these actions must be closely synchronized.
- Visualizing “agonists” and “antagonists” is a hopelessly simplified model for how these coordinated actions actually take place. No one muscle ever exactly opposes the action of another. All muscles that participate in a movement interact synergistically, reacting simultaneously with one another in an ever shifting kaleidoscope of shortening, lengthening and anchoring in their constantly changing relations to gravity and objects we are engaged with.
- All gestures involve, in one way or another, all the muscles of the body and the entire sensorimotor system that organizes and controls them.
- Seldom do I encounter a muscle that is “tight” in the sense that a guitar string is “tight.” What I normally observe is a general immobility in an area or in a range of motion. No one muscle is responsible; all of the synergistic muscles involved in the motion and its restrictions are mutually holding one another in check. For some to actively shorten, others must actively lengthen, and vice versa. Active engagement of conscious effort is sometimes a quicker and more effective means of changing this immobility than “relaxation.”
- Muscles are not attached to bones at discrete points of “origin” and “insertion.” Contractile force is indeed concentrated where tendon meets bone, but our connective tissue structure and its relations to movement are far more complex than this model is able to suggest. Muscle bellies fuse into tendons, which fuse into periostiums, which fuse into ligaments, which fuse into the periostiums of adjacent bones, and all of these fuse into the surrounding connective tissue structures in which they are all embedded. A contraction of any muscle group distributes its pull throughout an extensive network of webbing and attachments, not simply at points of “origin” and “insertion.”
- The brain does not map our musculature in tidy packages of “bicep,” “tricep,” “deltoid,” or “trapezius.” For any given movement of the arm the brain must perceive, track and organize a wide distribution of muscle fibers that extends throughout large groups of muscle compartments. These synergistic functional distributions are what the brain maps.
- No movement is ever purely “voluntary.” Most of the events involved in moving an arm, say, normally take place below our levels of conscious awareness. The groups of muscle fibers the brain deploys this way or that have been habituated by past repetitive usage and conditioned by past events and current expectations. The movement responses that are most readily available to me are both initiated and constrained by habituated patterns, and most of the events that constitute a pattern normally occur unconsciously.
- Many people’s repertoires of normal movement exist in the mid-range of their muscles’ capacities. Most of their muscles rarely fully shorten or fully lengthen. Muscular effort is rarely minimized or maximized. For the most part, we operate within and habituate rather modest limits of our muscles’ possibilities.
- No habituated pattern can simply be “erased.” There is no erase button for what our muscles have learned. New, more functional patterns must be actively learned and reinforced until they become more dominant and accessible than the older ones.
- It is not possible to have a perception–a sensation, an emotion, a thought–without a simultaneous muscular response. The response may be large, small, obvious, subtle, in skeletal muscles or in autonomic muscles, but it will occur somewhere, somehow. Mental perception and motor response are inextricably linked. As William James observed, we do not first have a feeling and then manifest a physical response; the physical response is the feeling we perceive.
- All of our perceptions and responses, movements and restrictions, resistances and releases, and the patterns we learn to habituate are manifestations of our minds.
- Mind is more than what brain is up to.
Resistance and Release in the Mind
In addition to the physical interactions of gravity and mass, there are of course other natural forces at play in our psyches and our spirits which materially manifest themselves in our physical organization and our behavior. Feeling states (both pervasive and transient), shifts in our attention and intention, the memories of past experiences, current expectations, adherence to socially acceptable norms of appearance and behavior, along with a cornucopia of associations that tumble out of the human memory and imagination all play formative roles in our muscular actions.
All of these psychological influences, which are as invisible as gravity and every bit as constant and compelling, contribute to our physical development and patterns of movement. We experience these forces as pushes and pulls on our consciousness, contractions and expansions of our perceptions and our moods, balances and imbalances in our psyche’s equilibrium, resistances and releases as new experiences either challenge or free us. We have psychological and spiritual centers of gravity as well as physical ones, and each plays its part in shaping our structure, defining our capacities and limitations, our developments and degenerations, pleasures and pains. The resistance and release of our thoughts, feelings, memories and beliefs play themselves out in our muscular actions just as surely as our shifting relations with gravity.
Ultimately it is the mind of the client that the therapist must learn to reach; that is where the changes must take place that will manifest themselves as enhanced sensory awareness, more accessible self-regulation, and successful adaptation. The dynamic interface between the mind and movement provides a concrete entry point into much of the life of the mind, and can serve as a window into many of the unconscious elements at play that motivate and shape us. Freedom and ease are not simply the lack of physical restrictions. They are states of mind. What does “softer, freer, lighter” actually feel like? And once I have felt these things, how can I manifest their qualities in more and more of my physical activities? These are the central therapeutic questions we must help our client’s find answers for.
These observations have grown directly out of my years of practice, and have been at the heart of my development of Resistance, Release and Re-Coordination work.
3. HOW RESISTANCE AND RELEASE CAME TOGETHER FOR ME
After Thirty-Five Years, a Breakthrough
The therapeutic insight that a more organized resistance to pushes and pulls leads directly to a more complete release and an immediate increase in range of motion came to me quite unexpectedly, more by way of long unconscious preparation and a moment’s happenstance than by design. I was doing a demonstration of relaxation technique for a class, showing the methods I had learned and used for years for releasing the restricted movement and pain of a problematic shoulder. But no matter how I applied what I had learned to bring “relaxation” to this shoulder, nothing I could do was succeeding in freeing the shoulder muscles and increasing the range of pain-free movement.
Stymied and abashed, I stepped back from the massage table. Why were my tried and true methods not working here? What was this barrier that I found myself–and the student on the table–up against? Pressed by my need in front of the class to somehow get on with it and hope for the best, I once again picked up the arm and gave it traction, trying to lengthen the shoulder muscles. Suddenly, in response to a thought only half-formed, I found myself saying to the student, “I want you to do something different here. Resist my traction and pull your shoulder blade closer to your spine.” At first nothing happened; the two of us were caught between my traction and her immobility. Then I felt a counter-pull on her part begin to gather. As it got stronger, she began to pull me toward her spine. Then after an inch or so of progress, her effort weakened. “I am going to continue giving you traction,” I said, “but I am going to let you win as you continue to pull me toward you.” Her contraction gained strength again, and she shortened the active muscles to their limit, bunching them tightly between her shoulder blade and spine. “Now,” I said, “let that effort go.” Immediately her shoulder softened and her shoulder blade floated freely away from her spine. When I once again applied traction, her arm extended two inches farther than it had been able to do must moments before.
Unsure of what had just happened, but fascinated, I continued to explore different vectors of traction through her arm and shoulder, asking for her contracting resistance, letting her win each tug-of-war until she had fully exerted her available strength and shortened her muscles as far as she was able. Each cycle resulted in stronger and more organized resistance, followed by further softening, lengthening, increased ranges of motion, and lessening pain. After twenty minutes or so of this, I had her stand and try her shoulder out. Her eyes widened, then filled with tears as she explored her movements. Not only were her ranges of motion dramatically increased, but there was also an altogether different grace and ease in her movements. And no pain. Amazement went through her to me and around the observing class. This student and I had stumbled onto something together, and it had worked spectacularly.
For the remaining days of the class I dropped the agenda I had carefully prepared and began helping students explore vectors of traction and compression with their partners, coaching them to organize efforts resisting my traction or compression, and elongate chronically shortened muscles with each release of effort. The process proved to be quite simple in its principles, but infinitely variable from body to body and from repetition to repetition. A collective excitement began to grow that I will never forget, as dramatic results continued to manifest at table after table. I was not yet really sure what had happened, but I knew that my way of working with clients and students had changed forever.
And the changes continue, as I work together with more and more clients and students. The purpose of my teaching is to take you on this journey of discovery with me, and to put in your mind and hands new concepts and tools that will significantly enhance the effectiveness of your practice, whatever your modality. In its essence, Resistance, Release and Re-Coordination work is quite simple, and it yields fruitful results.
Copyright by Deane Juhan, October 9, 2012