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Inside-Out Bodywork

Tap into your body's wisdom to release unhealthy patterns of movement.

By Linda Knittel

If you want someone to rub away knots in your back or aching shoulder, don't call an Ortho-Bionomy (O-B) or Feldenkrais practitioner. It's not that these techniques can't address such trouble spots; both are exceptional at easing tight muscles, healing injuries, and alleviating chronic pain. But unlike therapists who use more manipulative bodywork techniques (like massage), Ortho-Bionomy and Feldenkrais practitioners don't do the work for you. They show you how to do it yourself, teaching you to tap into the internal wisdom of your body. As with the practice of yoga, the awareness achieved through Ortho-Bionomy and Feldenkrais can improve health and flexibility, and can provide you with a deeper connection to yourself and a greater engagement with life.

If you ask an Ortho-Bionomy practitioner to describe what she does in six words, the answer might be, "Find a pattern and exaggerate it." Say your problem is a stiff neck. During your first visit, an O-B practitioner will ask you to describe the pain. Then she will assess your body while you stand and again as you lie, wearing comfortable clothes, on a massage table. Using gentle pressure and verbal dialogue, she will locate tension points in your neck area. Next, she will determine your neck's habitual pattern of muscular action by gently moving your head into a position that feels familiar and comfortable to you. Once she finds this pattern, she will exaggerate it by adding a little pressure, then wait to feel a release in the tension points. Generally, the nervous system takes between a few seconds and a few minutes to recognize that it has been restricting certain muscles and to send the muscles a message to let go.

When used on various trouble spots in the body, this practice of "spontaneous release by positioning," along with O-B's other techniques, can promote increased flexibility, range of motion, circulation, balance, and awareness. "Yes, the work helps people relieve tension, pain, and discomfort," says Phyllecia Rommel, a practitioner who teaches the technique at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon. "But it also helps to enhance self-knowledge. Like yoga, it helps you deal with things that come up and then get past them."

There is a good deal more to Ortho-Bionomy than easing restriction and pain by exaggerating neuromuscular patterns. In fact, there are seven phases, ranging from gentle postures to energy work meant to transcend space and time. While all this may sound a bit esoteric, O-B basically embraces the idea that if a practitioner uses movement and directional pressure on your tissues to present your nervous system with what O-B calls a "preferred position," your body will choose this more comfortable alignment over one that involves strain.

Although Ortho-Bionomy's creator, Arthur Lincoln Pauls, was a black-belt judo instructor rather than a yoga teacher, the modality's principles are much like those of yoga, says Lindalouise Malcolm, a longtime yoga practitioner and somatic educator who uses O-B in her Portland classes. "Both are about transformation from within."

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