What I learnt in 2012

As far as yearly round-ups go, this one is a little late - but since I've been galavanting around the States for two weeks, I hope that can be forgiven! 2012 was a big year for me - I started a business, became a Structural Integrator, embarked on my Feldenkrais training, became qualified in pregnancy massage, spent a week in a dissection lab, discovered the importance of skepticism and critical thinking, and started to explore the wonderful world of neuroscience, which has lead to some fascinating insights into how and why pain (especially chronic pain) occurs, and more importantly how it can be helped. Not bad for 12 months!

Working with James Earls (www.anatomytrains.co.uk) was one of the most worthwhile things I have done career wise - not only is he a genius, he is a fantastically engaging genius with a wicked sense of humour. And that counts for a lot when you are holed up in an Oxfordshire village hall with someone's fingers prodding your diaphragm. The Structural Integration practitioner training (particularly the second of the three parts) goes much further than any sports massage course I've done in delving into the deepest darkest reaches of the myoskeletal system, and it was through that course that I started to get my first inklings of how important body awareness is in relation to dysfunction and healing. I say it all the time, but it really isn't enough to merely work on someone. To be effective requires active participation from the massage receiver as well as the giver. (Of course, in the case of a relaxation massage this rule doesn't apply - feel free to drift off and sip Pina Colada's with George Clooney under that palm tree if the mood takes you).
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This realisation is what led me to explore Feldenkrais for the first time. I seem to have an uncanny knack of wanting to be qualified in things that no one's ever heard of, but Feldenkrais is slowly growing in reputation as neuroscience starts to confirm some of its findings regarding the link between proprioceptive awareness, pain and dysfunction. Famously difficult to explain, sessions take the form of 'lessons' rather than treatments, and is all about playing and exploring movement, in much the way a small child would. As adults, most of us move habitually and without really thinking about it - little bad habits get picked up over the years and are repeated over and over, potentially creating the environment for strain and injury. Exploring easier and more pleasurable ways of moving can hugely improve our quality of life, cognitively and emotionally as well as physically. This course will see me schlepping to Brighton about seven weeks a year for the next four years, but it will all be worth it, and I can't wait to get properly stuck in.

Neuroscience might seem a strange thing for a manual therapist to be excited about. In Sports Massage school we were always told that we 'don't work with the nerves' - which is a plainly ridiculous concept in practise, since (unless your client is dead or under anaesthesia) it is 100% impossible not to be working with the nervous system. Research shows that pain signals are sent down from the brain (rather than up through the tissues as is commonly believed), and can be increased or decreased depending on certain factors. In other words, how painful a certain experience is depends entirely on how important your brain deems pain to be at that moment. Its how Olympic athletes manage to keep racing despite injury, and why young children only start crying after seeing the graze.

So why do I care? Well, in chronic pain situations, clients who receive pain education experience less pain than before. And the improved body awareness, proprioception and relaxation that good manual therapy provides can help too. At the moment I am just at the tip of the information iceberg (and new discoveries are being made every day), but it is exciting stuff.

The dissection course run by Gil Hedley (www.gilhedley.com) was another 2012 highlight. Paying (rather a lot of) money to hang out with cadavers for a week might not be everyones idea of a good time, but for a bodyworker it is like opening the most amazing present ever. Tactilely exploring structures which previously were available only in picture form was incredible, and I am grateful to Gil and to the donors themselves for the experience.

What will 2013 bring? I can't wait to find out!

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